DECEMBER 8, in days gone by was regarded as the country man’s day to hit the big smoke for the Christmas spend, writes Tommy Callaghan.
That was in the so called good old days. Now of course everything has changed and changed utterly.
Take last Saturday for instance.
A dark, damp miserable December 8, not a whole lot on, the GAA fields are getting a bit of a rest for once but out in Kildare’s Centre of Excellence activity is just resuming as the Kildare senior county players are back for their first day of collective training.
Kieran McGeeney is busy as usual, hurrying from here to there.
New man on the management team, Damian Hendy, looks enthusiastic as he looks forward to his first year on board.
But it’s the newest addition to the trio that will lead Kildare throughout 2013 that is causing most of the mid-day attention.
After weeks, if not months, of speculation the new man on board is finally unveiled.
Meet Jason Ryan.
Waterford native, Ryan has been looking (successfully) after Wexford for the past five years before bringing his tenure to an end this summer.
He has, just like Kieran McGeeney in Kildare, brought Wexford to the dizzy heights of Leinster finals plus an All Ireland quarter final appearance.
And while just like McGeeney the silverware eluded him, Ryan nevertheless has been an unprecedented success in his time in Wexford, a county just like Kildare, that has a proud past but has little to show in the modern world of today’s GAA.
But Ryan, a 36-year-old secondary school teacher in Dungarvan, has earned a much valued reputation after his exploits with the Yellowbellies and has now decided to forego the role of number one to number two or even possibly to number three.
He, according to himself, has a tough act to follow as he heaps praise on those who have gone before him since McGeeney arrived in the Shortgrass back in 2008.
Men of the calibre of Grimley, Carew, Rafferty and O’Rourke, “all serious coaches with an awful lot of experience and awful lot of knowledge,” says Ryan.
So how does a Waterford native, who managed Wexford, now find himself in a coaching role in Kildare?
“When I finished with Wexford I could see myself getting involved next year but with a club rather than a county but then Kieran (McGeeney) got in touch and we discussed me getting involved in a coaching capacity with him and Kildare.
“Time was the main reason I left Wexford while this role that I envisage with Kildare has none of the administrative side of things which takes up a lot of time, and I must say I’m looking forward to it immensely at this stage,” admitted Ryan.
Kildare have had some good days over the past few years, I’m not too sure if success is the right word but certainly good days; some will say they did not win as much as they would have liked; why hasn’t a Leinster title not been won for instance but you have to look at the big picture and they have been involved in the All Ireland series for the last five years or so.
Is that enough asks Ryan?
Probably not he replies to his own query.
“But certainly a step in the right direction; whether I will be able to make any impact we will have to wait and see but hopefully I can have a positive influence.”
Ryan, who was planning on resuming his footballing career late last year at junior level, returned to training with his club but on the first night back he did his cruciate ligament and is now only slowly but surely returning to fitness, some seven months later.
It is unusual for an inter-county manager to revert to a coaching role but in this instance Ryan seems to be relishing that very prospect.
“I managed a team before I ever coached a team and now I am coaching a team again; it is what it is; it fits for me at the moment; I will be involved in training; involved in the matches, I will do my homework where in the last five years it just did not stop,” says Ryan as he surveys the magnificent facilities at Hawkfield.
“Over the past number of years I’d be worried about injuries; worried about the psychology; worried about the strength and conditioning; worried about the tactics; worried is the bus going to be on time; will that t-shirt fit them; are those jerseys a bit small, that is the kind of stuff that was getting in the way but I don’t have to think about those things now, I can look forward to just studying the opposition; studying our tactics; figuring out the best way we can play and then make my suggestions, working with Kieran and Damian.”
Ironically one of Kildare’s opponents in the New Year will be Wexford in the O’Byrne Cup, will that pose a problem, a little uneasiness after spending so much time with that county over the past number of years?
“It’s not pleasant but I have worked hard in Wexford and I don’t feel I owe anybody anything apart from the people that appointed me but I gave them all that I could and I’m not facing them (Wexford players) as a manager I’ll be facing them as a coach, Kieran is the boss, I will make my contribution to the team and make my verbal suggestions. That’s all I can contribute and the rest is in Kieran’s hands, but yes, it will feel a little bit strange but I have a job to do and I will do it to the best of my ability.
And does the latest addition to the Kildare back room feel pressure?
“I didn’t feel too much pressure when I was with Wexford; I think an awful lot of pressure is what you put on yourself but I will still have pressure when Kieran says ‘look this is what I want you go do’ and if I don’t do that I’m still facing that but now I can spend a lot more time with my family; make sure I’m giving the right time to my day job but I really enjoy working with players and I will have more time now to prepare for our coaching sessions; what I did find in Wexford that I was not giving enough time to preparation for that coaching due to spending time on other tasks that the general public do not realise goes on in the background but is absolutely necessary all the same.”
Can you see yourself changing the way Kildare play their football?
“You can come up at what ever plan you want to but you have to look at the opposition; how they are going to be playing; Donegal won the All Ireland this year and we know the way they played and now a lot of teams will be playing a similar game to Donegal so regardless of how we want to play we will have to see how the opposition on any given day will play; at the end of the day it is all about getting results; setting yourself up that you concede as little as possible and score as much as possible.”
It’s all very simple he says with a broad smile, adding “but we will have to have a look at the personnel, who id available, who is not available; there are top footballers in Kildare but like every team it is two or three vital players that can sometimes dictate how you might play, how you might set up.”
An insight into Ryan’s philosophy on the various competitions can be gauged when he says “if you have everything in place for the O’Byrne Cup the opposition has you sussed out for the National League and if you have everything in place totally for the league then you become very predictable for the championship but the GAA is all about the championship; you want to do well in the league in the O’Byrne but at the end of the day it is all about the championship.
Asked if it took much persuasion when McGeeney came knocking the schoolmaster said the main concern was at home, “Suzanne (wife) is very understanding. I want to play a match the day I came back from my honeymoon and it hasn’t really stopped since but you have to get the work/life balance right but this is work and while people say you are doing what you like and love, yes, but it is still work and you have to get that work/life balance correct.”
Ryan admitted that the boss is the number one man, the man that calls the shots, at least that’s how he operated in his last role with Wexford..
“We all have our opinions but what I learned in Wexford when you are management it is a dictatorship, end of story; I never believed in selectors sitting around a table and voting on who is going to be playing corner back; at the end of the day if it doesn’t work the manager is going to be sacked so it has to be his decision; I made plenty of decisions in Wexford that selectors picked someone and I picked a different player and went against what they all said; some days it works, dome days it doesn’t.
“People understood, that while I would seek opinions, listen to other viewpoints but at the end of the day I was the boss; the decision was mine and mine alone.
“I don’t see that as a problem here in Kildare. I have not worked with an All Ireland winner before; an All Ireland captain; someone who has worked successfully with Compromise Rules teams so I believe it will be very beneficial that way and working with someone like Julie Davis is going to be a good experience, this is her sixth year with the team; not many people working is strength and conditioning stay that long and while the people I worked with in Wexford were brilliant in that regard I am really looking forward to working with Julie from that point of view; a whole different scene for me now.”
And what would Mr Ryan deem as being a successful season?
Winning lots of games was the quick replay to that.
“I haven’t really sat down yet to discuss the National League, Division 1, or even the Leinster Championship; but I’ll see what I can learn starting from today and over the next couple of weeks and then getting stuck into training; try to have some sort of influence on the players and hopefully be positive; its going to be interesting, its going to be very interesting” adds Ryan as he heads for the training ground to meet up with his players for the very first time.
Could Jason Ryan possibly be the link that Kildare have been missing over the past five years?
He is aware of those who have preceded him in this role, the likes of Grimley, Carew, Rafferty and O’Rourke all successful but still did not bring home the silverware, just as he did not bring home the silverware despite a very successful period in Wexford.
Can he succeed in improving defensive structures?
Can he succeed in giving the players the confidence to rack up the scores, especially in the big games and on the big days?
Can he succeed in bringing silverware back to a county starved of success?
A county that has won just two Leinster titles since 1956.
A county that few can recall Kildare’s last All Ireland glory in 1928.
He is facing a tall order indeed.
But if it comes down to enthusiasm; down to belief; down to his undoubted coaching ability, Kildare will surely find themselves in a better place come December 8 2013.
And that can only mean thing and one thing only.