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Standing the test of time

JASON RYAN has come a long way. In the winter of 2007, he was the virtually unknown 31-year-old who was handed the Wexford football job, but now he's part of an ever-dwindling club that see out more than a couple of seasons in the same job at inter-county management.

Ryan guided Clongeen to their first county title and within a couple of months found himself preparing for Wexford's All-Ireland campaign.

His maiden season in 2008 started with a Division 3 title, but they would be hammered by Dublin in the Leinster final before reaching the last four in the country, where they were beaten by eventual All-Ireland champions Tyrone.

There have been highs and lows since, but Wexford football's stock has risen along with Ryan's to the point where he was among the leading candidates for the hurling manager's job in his native Waterford after Davy Fitzgerald's departure.

"No, I didn't think I'd be here five years on," admits the De La Salle clubman. "You just can't think like that, particularly nowadays.

"Look at the work Val Andrews put into Cavan, Gerry Cooney in Offaly and John Evans in Tipperary and they are gone. When you're winning and getting results everything is great, but when things go against you, it can turn very quickly. They say a player's career is short -- but a manager's career is shorter."

Ryan and Wexford have come full circle as they prepare for this evening's Division 3 final against Longford at Croke Park. It's a first return to headquarters since last year's near miss against Dublin in the provincial final when Anthony Masterson's misjudgment allowed Dublin off the hook.

That defeat was followed by their controversial loss to Limerick in the last-16, in a game that provided much of the momentum behind the clamour for the introduction of Hawk-Eye, the score-detection technology, when Ian Ryan was awarded a score that was far from clear on video replays.

"A lot is made of last year, maybe too much. Things didn't go our way," he explains. "Wexford have had some very difficult days since I came in and even before that, under Pat Roe and others, they lost crucial games for promotion where things went against them.

"But, whatever it is in the Wexford psyche, they keep coming back regardless of what happens. It's ingrained in them."

stylish

Wexford have carved out a reputation as one of the more stylish teams. They were the highest scorers in the top three divisions in the league (the presence of Kilkenny in Division 4 skewed the scoring average here) and, with forwards like Ciaran Lyng, Ben Brosnan, Redmond Barry and PJ Banville, they are a major threat. They have also been reinforced by some of last year's Leinster-winning U-21 side.

Perhaps more crucially, the Model footballers are attracting more players to their cause who might have traditionally been expected to line out with the hurlers. The likes of John Lacey, Lee Chin, Michael O'Regan and Andrew Shore are concentrating exclusively on football this term with the possibility of a couple of big days in Croke Park. That's something which makes the football panel a much more attractive proposition.

"I have noticed that I'm having more conversations with guys. It used to be a straight 'no,' but the conversations are longer now and it's not so emphatic. It's two codes and two identities who are trying to put out their best team and you are going to have cross-over. You just to do the best you can," he says.

"I have seen it in Waterford. Growing up there, football was a minority sport, but the success of the hurlers under Gerald McCarthy and others meant that it's gone from a minority sport to one that's fighting for survival really.

"You can put all the money you want into coaching, but if your senior team is successful in a particular code, it goes a very long way. All the kids will have their role models and that's the game they will be drawn towards."

Ryan hopes that game will be football -- despite new GAA president Liam O'Neill's recent assertion that it is "boring".

"The great thing about football is its unpredictability. Fitness levels and physicality levels have levelled off and it's increasingly coming down to one or two moments of magic. I was at the league semi-finals and there was some exceptional performances. Conor Laverty (for Down) was superb, a little guy, but he has all the skills. Conor Mortimer in the first 20 minutes was excellent. I think football is in great shape."

With the first goal of promotion secured, Ryan's championship preparation starts tonight. "It's a cliche, but winning is a habit and we want to win the league and get into that mindset. After that, it's about winning as many games as possible and go into the summer for as long as possible," he asserts.

Irish Independent