Friday 18 January 2019

Ryan calls for demands on players to be curbed

Seán Ryan initially focused his attention on the big ball to become the first Birr man to play senior football for the Faithful under Kevin Kilmurray in 2006. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Seán Ryan initially focused his attention on the big ball to become the first Birr man to play senior football for the Faithful under Kevin Kilmurray in 2006. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

"Straight after the match Offaly chairman Pat Teehan gave me the nod and said, 'We'll go now and we'll make it at half-time', and he put the foot down, only stopping to do his Lotto, and got me there for half-time and I came on a few minutes later."

When describing his cross-country dash from Thurles - where he was an unused substitute for the Offaly hurlers against Waterford in the 2008 All-Ireland Qualifiers - to Tullamore to play against Down in the Football Qualifiers, Seán Ryan finds it hard not to laugh.

Sitting in a car for an hour while stewing about his lack of involvement is hardly ideal preparation for championship football but very little about Ryan's 13-year inter-county was done in an orthodox fashion.

He admits that "no player would stand for it now" when listing off the teams he lined out for while in college: Fresher Football and Hurling with UL, Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup as well as club U-21/senior and county U-21/senior in both codes.

Small in stature but regularly punching above his weight in the physical exchanges, Ryan initially focused his attention on the big ball to become the first Birr man to play senior football for the Faithful under Kevin Kilmurray in 2006.

A year later, he would make his hurling debut under John McIntyre against Tipperary in the Qualifiers despite only being called into the squad a few days previously and he didn't disappoint, hitting 1-2 from midfield.

The dual mandate was sampled for two seasons but his first six were predominantly spent with the footballers and would provide him with a moment he'll never forget, their 2007 Leinster SFC semi-final loss against Dublin in Croke Park where he made a big impact off the bench but couldn't hear his own voice, or others, such was the din in GAA HQ.

It's hurling that he'll be best remembered for, however, where his honesty and endeavour in hard times saw him handed captaincy in 2017 but the 32-year-old's career would end on a sour note with relegation to the Joe McDonagh Cup in June.

When the call came from Kevin Martin to commit for 2019, it was the first time he had hesitated but ongoing shoulder trouble and the desire required to continue his county career just weren't there any more. The fire had burned out.

With many of his vintage already gone out to pasture and the game requiring "ridiculous" commitment, Ryan sees a big problem on the GAA's doorstep.

"It's five days a week in a group. You start back in October, you finish in the summer after eight or nine months and then the club championship starts then straight away. You never really get to switch off," he says.

"There's very few lads over 30 that are going to be able to give that level of commitment. The GAA need to have a look at it as you're going to see a big drop-off with players. People find it tougher to make that type of commitment these days."

The "prestige" of playing county still exists but Ryan, a woodwork teacher in Borrisokane CC, feels weaker counties are finding it more difficult to attract numbers with the lack of exposure a major drawback.

"Only for the likes of Buff Egan and some others putting it out there, people wouldn't have known the Joe McDonagh existed this year and that's an awful shame. The players aren't getting the recognition for the effort they're putting in," he says.

His swansong didn't pan out as planned as a broken jaw ruled him out for much of the year but despite Offaly's fall from grace, he's confident that youngsters like Ben Conneely, Eoghan Cahill, Oisín Kelly and David Nally can help turn the tide.

"While it was disappointing to go down, the Joe McDonagh can be used as a positive platform to launch from and getting back to winning ways is crucial. If they can win it, they'll go into Leinster with huge momentum."

Irish Independent

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