AFTER 20 years in the League of Ireland, Barry Ryan traded in top-flight life in 2014 for the less salubrious surrounds of Clare junior soccer.
The change was a big one but it’s had its moments.
None more so than on a warm, sunny day in Dublin last May when the Ennis man was part of the Clare team that brought the Oscar Traynor Trophy back to the Banner for the first time in 12 years.
But soccer in Clare is not exactly one long carnival of big occasions. Some seasons it rarely involves the sun.
So it is that every now and then, the man who carved out a reputation as one of the country’s most consistent goalkeepers finds himself sitting in a car on Sunday mornings looking out at the pelting rain, wondering why he keeps doing it?
“There’s some mornings when I’ve been asking myself, ‘What am I doing?’ When you’re up in Lahinch or somewhere on a Sunday morning and the wind is blowing across the pitch and you’re togging out in the car, you ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this? Ryan said with a laugh
But then it’s game time and old habits take over.
When Ryan decided to continue playing at a lower level, he wanted to give it a good crack.
His performances with Clare, as with Tulla United and now Avenue United, offer ample evidence he has lost none of his edge or dependability.
He said, “I was going to come back and give it a year in the Clare league and just see how it went. I’m gone into the second year. Once the body can keep going, I’ll keep going. I’m still fit. I’m still able to jump around a little bit! When I’m not able to do that it’s time to hang up the boots.”
There are a few more days to go, you suspect, before Ryan decides to call time on a career that included spells with UCD, Shamrock Rovers, Galway United and Limerick FC.
The 38-year-old is still excited by the prospect of big games like Sunday’s Oscar Traynor Final against Inishowen.
“Oh yeah, I still get the buzz. If you didn’t get the buzz, that’s when I’ll stop playing,” he explained, “That’s when I’ll completely stop playing.
I have the bit of banter with the lads at training. They all look after themselves. Times have changed. Even in the Clare League, players look after themselves. It’s good craic. There’s a great bunch of lads there.”
Ryan has been part of the Clare set up as player for two years, having initially joined as a coach.
He was a key member of last year’s team, his experience, ability and all round organizational skills helping mould the Clare defence into one of the competition’s best.
Familiarity too has bred a bond teams around Ireland have found hard to break.
“This team has been together a long time. They’ve been together a while,” said Ryan. “Whoever has been involved management wise, has added one or two here and there. But the core has been there for a few years so everyone knows everyone. I wasn’t playing a few years ago. I was coaching the goalkeepers. But I’ve been playing the past two years. There is a good strong core there; good midfield, strong bench, good backs. We’re covered everywhere. It’s looking good.”
Facing Inishowen in what is essentially a home tie in Buncrana is as steep a challenge as it comes in the Oscar Traynor.
But Clare are hardened road warriors and Ryan is confident they have what it takes to reclaim the trophy.
“We have to get out of the blocks and put them under pressure. Start on the front foot because if you start slow, it’s hard to pick it up during the game. But if you start well, get the game management right and everyone does their job, I think we’ll be alright,” he said.
He said, “I would be confident enough but it’ll be 50/50 on Sunday but we’ve been to Wexford. That’s a tough place to go. We’ve been up to Roscommon this year. We went up to Dublin last year and won it so we’re not afraid. We won’t be afraid.”