Lansdowne's stellar class of 1998-99 get back together to raise funds for Ryan
Sixteen years after they tasted All-Ireland success together, Lansdowne Rugby Club's all-conquering U-20s team of 1998-99 gathered for a reunion with a difference on Saturday night.
In the shadow of the Aviva Stadium, over 200 people attended a fundraising dinner for a young man who played such an integral part in the club's successes during that 1998-99 season.
Ryan Walker only played for Lansdowne for one season but his impact in such a short period of time, both on and off the field, was immense.
The South African inspired the club to Leinster and All-Ireland triumph and his commitment, talent and experience rubbed off on his team-mates. Ryan went on to play professionally with the Natal Sharks and Leeds Tykes.
In 2013, Ryan was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease at the age of 35. Ryan is determined not to allow this debilitating disease to prevent him from continuing his work on the family farm or being an active father for his two daughters, and he has along with his family, set-up the Ryan Walker Foundation.
On Saturday he and his wife returned to Ireland for a gala dinner hosted in his honour to raise funds for the Foundation. His old team-mates gathered and raised over €70,000 through sponsorship, donations, a raffle and an auction.
"Ryan arrived and made an ordinary team a very good team," said Roger Geraghty, who captained the team.
"He raised the bar for us and it was the perfect opportunity for us to come together to support one of our own.
"As a club, we're particularly proud of our association with Ryan and were delighted he and his wife Paula travelled over from South Africa for the Gala Ball. He's an incredible person and didn't stop smiling all night.
"Ryan came back to Ireland halfway through the season after returning home to play for his province. He flew back against their wishes to help us win the Leinster and All-Ireland titles. That epitomised his selflessness and we wanted to repay him."
Motor Neurone Disease is a progressive degenerative disease that leads to loss of mobility in the limbs and difficulties with speech. The Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014 heightened awareness of the disease worldwide.
More information about the Ryan Walker Foundation can be found at www.ryanwalker.co.za