Friday 20 April 2018

'If you want to make it you would want to have that edge to you' - Donnacha Ryan

Ryan opens the door to 'tough competitor' and second row rival Dillane

Donnacha Ryan is pictured in Carton House yesterday (SPORTSFILE)
Donnacha Ryan is pictured in Carton House yesterday (SPORTSFILE)
David Kelly

David Kelly

Perhaps there might have been an inkling of resentment in Donnacha Ryan's bones as he watched a nascent superstar gambolling gazelle-like for the English try-line in Twickenham 12 days ago.

Everyone is famous for 15 minutes, we were told once, but Ultan Dillane's 15-minute cameo is a foretaste of things to come - he is likely to start this weekend and Ryan, who he replaced the last day, is the likely fall guy.

Dillane represents an exciting future and those with the past accelerating in their rear-view mirror are often not minded to look kindly upon such youthful brio.

At least, that was Ryan's experience when he strode enthusiastically in the footsteps of so many gnarled Munster veterans of yore.

Donncha O'Callaghan wrote of his seething resentment from the bench as others borrowed his starting place; himself and Ryan weren't the best buddies when the latter first emerged as a threat.

Their friendship hardened but only because Ryan decamped to the back-row; having got on famously with incumbents Denis Leamy and Alan Quinlan, that warmth cooled, too.

A different breed.

The Munster pack wouldn't share their most coveted trade secrets with a direct rival, perhaps, but their steadfast, ceaseless will to compete for the red jersey bequeathed arguably the most important lesson of all.

Ryan is 32 now and the nature of the sport has aged with him; Munster's fiercely internal rivalry was sufficient for their days of conquering Europe but the model would never fit Ireland.

A different need.

Enfield and all that heralded a new, united direction; one for all, all for one, empathy, kindness and apple pie. Even now, the entire squad shake hands with each other and bid each other morning to start the day.

On the outside, it must feel like sharing a house - or, rather, an historic mansion - with the extended clan of Ned Flanders.

"When I was younger coming into a Munster pack I wasn't taken under anyone's wing at all, you had to fight for your own corner and that's how you earn your stripes," says Ryan easily.

"But you get to a level of maturity where I get a kick out of sharing my experience over the years having learned from the best in the world, like Paul O'Connell.

"And Ultan is a good natured guy. If he wants to learn, all you can do is give him the information, it's up to him whether he accepts it or not and at the moment he's been very forthcoming and it's great to train with him."

Ryan's recent toil - he shudders when the word injury passes your lips - has also hardened him against the scepticism of yore; facing the end of your profession can inject humility when it comes to assessing one's rivals.

"I wouldn't be as cynical as that anymore to be honest," he says, and 18 months of anguished absence from the sport infuses that honesty.

"I would try to help anyone as much as they can and if it drives my standard as well, it's up to me to drive my standard the whole time as well.

"I do not know it all and I have a constant thirst for knowledge every day. I go out and train under tremendous coaches.

"The level of intensity in training is fantastic so it's up to me to find avenues and ways to progress. It all feeds the collective at the end of the day.


"It's great to be competitive in going for the same slot, but at the end of the day you have to have that team spirit.

"There's talk about a lack of leadership but that's what the lads have done. We have tremendous team spirit in the group and that's fantastic to be around."

As for Dillane after his vivacious cameo in London, Ryan insists there is more to come from the latest of a select - but distinguished - band of Kerrymen to play for Ireland.

"I definitely think so, he's a tremendous athlete. He's at that age where he's mad to get in there but you can always realise that you have to know the technical component and the framework that you're working within and adhere to.

"He's soaking up every bit of knowledge that he can and he's going to be a fantastic player for his country. He's a fantastic guy, lovely fella. Just a great personality. Very positive. Unbelievably humble.

"He's a great Kerry guy and I am just thrilled to bits for him. He is an incredible athlete, with this massive thirst for knowledge and he is constantly asking questions.

"It is great to suit up alongside a guy on his debut the last day. In 10 years' time hopefully he will be doing the same thing alongside some guy who is earning his first cap as well. He did a great break up the field as well. It was brilliant to see.

"He's a very tough competitor. If you're going to make it in the second row or the front five you'd want to have that sort of edge to you."

O'Connell spoke with often yearning desire to keep playing as long as the youth around him thrived; he appreciated the brevity of time in the shirt, the sense of it being borrowed and being passed on.

And there is nothing so exhilarating as the flourish of youth; if nothing else, it can revive all around them and this Irish squad needs energy after a winless sequence of four games which have left them cut adrift at world and European level.

"I find it's great for me and Devin Toner that there's a fantastic level of competition there, Dave Foley, too," adds Ryan. "We can feed off that."

The individual feeds the collective.

"We have a very eager squad," he signs off. "Trying to take a bigger step than the last one. Mad to perform."

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