Dean Ryan played his first county final in 2007, but seven years on is still waiting to win his first football medal of any description. He’s desperate for deliverance on Sunday, reports Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
TWENTY-THREE-YEAR-OLD Dean Ryan looks around and sees the impact the younger generation are making. The minors and those just out of minor ranks – the enthusiasm they bring and how they thrive on the buzz of being part of it all. That all-consuming drive to bring the Jack Daly through the gates of Clonroadmore.
In a way, he’s looking at a mirror image of himself. Once he was the minor thrust onto the county final stage, when he thought every day would be like this, only for the lessons of defeat to teach him different.
“I was only 16 in 2007,” recalls Ryan, “and there was a brilliant buzz at the time as the lads were after winning the title the year before. I came into the team and it was all new to me. We ended up getting to the county final, but lost out to Lissycasey.
“I was so young that I thought there’d be plenty more finals – that this was the way it was going to be for years, that we’d be contesting and winning county finals. Now I know that county finals don’t come around that easy. We’re a prime example of that,” he adds.
It’s why Ryan, on his second coming to county final day is so keen, desperate even, to atone. He comes into it in the form of his life after a stellar comeback year in the county colours after receiving the call from manager Colm Collins last November.
“Making the decision to go back with Clare,” says Ryan, “brought me on leaps and bounds. The last couple of years I hadn’t been there or thereabouts and hadn’t been playing as well for Éire Óg, but playing with Clare this year has been a massive help to me.
“I had Colm underage with Clare and have great respect for him – he’s doing a brilliant job, he’s very professional about things. I know exactly what he’s going to bring with Cratloe this Sunday. He’ll leave no stone unturned, just like James will be the same with us.
“James came in back in 2012 and has done a brilliant job. He’s been involved in nearly everything that’s been successful since then. One step further is what we want now,” he adds.
Éire Óg’s revival has come after a few indifferent years, with the natural low-point being caught in a relegation fight in 2011 when only a strong second half showing saved them in their semi-final rubber against Kilmihil in Quilty.
“We always had the belief and the ambition and getting to county finals was always on the radar, but for all these years it just didn’t happen. But since we were involved in that relegation then things have lifted. We’ve won minor, under 21 and junior championships and it’s all been building up the last couple of years.”
But only after the greatest of tests, says Ryan, because that’s what taking on the reigning county champions in the final represents.
“Cratloe’s record speaks for itself,” says Ryan, “and are county champions for a reason. The last two championship meetings they’ve beaten us. That’s plain for everyone to see and it’s something we’re desperate to rectify.
“We felt we could have beaten them in those two games. We know what went wrong. We know we can improve. We have what it takes. We have put in tremendous work this year and there’s a brilliant panel of players there. To see the work that they’ve put in, if we’re able to bring that out on the field on Sunday we have a great chance of getting through it.
“I have never won a football medal in my entire life. It would mean everything. The last couple of years, with the minors and the under 21s, I’ve been watching them and supporting them. Their success has been brilliant, but the Jack Daly is the main one. That’s the cup we want and that’s the medal we want. We’re all in it together and it would mean everything. We can’t let the opportunity pass.”
Talking over, Ryan can’t wait until Sunday comes.