Ryan eager to stay centre stage after long wait in wings
FOR two years Lester Ryan waited patiently on the Kilkenny panel but didn't see as much as a minute's league action.
But in 2013, he was only back training with the squad for two weeks before he was handed a start.
Clara's extended club campaign that ended with them being crowned All-Ireland club IHC winners meant Ryan only came back into the squad a fortnight before the league opener against Galway.
But with injuries to Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice as well as Cillian Buckley, Ryan (pictured, below) was handed his chance.
"I didn't really have the head focused on combinations and permutations, and as regards who was in or out," he said.
"It was just when the team was named on the Friday night, I was on it. That was the Galway match. From thereon in, I just kept at it.
"I got called in after the league campaign in 2011. So the league in 2012 was my first campaign. I was available for the first two matches but then the injury kicked in.
"So this year was my first year where I was able to get a debut in the league."
Along with last year's knee injury, progressing through the Kilkenny underage ranks as a right half-back undoubtedly hampered his chances as, when he was called up to Brian Cody's panel, he was faced with the task of unseating Tommy Walsh. A 2008 All-Ireland U-21 winner, Ryan wasn't deterred.
"It's great to be part of the panel but if you're not kicking on to get onto the team, there is a big chance you won't be part of the panel in the first place," he said.
"We're training week in, week out. So you're getting chances in training.
"There's an ambition to get on the team."
Ryan lined out at midfield for Clara and he was thrown in there by Cody for the start of the league and hasn't looked back.
Ryan has been the 'find' of the league for the Cats and has played every minute of their league campaign, scoring in every game except the round two clash with Tipperary.
And as the spring wore on, he grew stronger, landing 0-3 in both the semi-final and final of the league as Kilkenny recovered from successive opening defeats to secure back-to-back league titles.
Ryan maintained his place as a number of regulars returned from injury. Such was Ryan's form, Kilkenny's management opted to reposition regular midfielder Fennelly to centre-forward for the league final.
"The standard is very high in training, especially the training matches. After that it's about trying to get the most out of yourself for the matches and keep going for the 70 minutes," said Ryan.
"The hardest thing about senior hurling is getting used to going from a 60-minute match to a 70-minute match. You really feel those last 10 minutes."
Ryan's form was recognised at Croke Park yesterday as he was named the Opel Hurler of the Year for the league – Tyrone's Stephen O'Neill landed the football award. But Ryan knows better than most that a loss of form could see him back on the bench ahead of Kilkenny's championship opener against Offaly in Tullamore on June 9.
"If you're marking the likes of Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice at training, it can only help you. If you're surviving at training there it does help. They've been great leaders for Kilkenny," he said.
"But the league is over now though and the championship team hasn't been named so in that sense it's back to work and back to the drawing board."