Ryan confidential

WRECKED.

Knackered. Exhausted. Out on my feet. Dead to the world. Zonked. Yes, your trusty correspondent is very, very, very tired.

Not that I’ve been anywhere special or done anything unusual in the last few days.

But I have been reading a new book about the adventures of an unusually dedicated sports fan. And just even thinking about it now, I feel again the need to repair to a dark room for a long, long sleep.

In the nicest possible way, Jim Ryan can do that to you. Jim is the man who has been here, there and everywhere in support of Irish football, hurling, rugby, hockey, camogie, athletics and whatever you’re having yourself.

And he has put it all down in print in a charming new book called ‘A Sporting Beat’, the story of a sports-mad garda from Watergrasshill, a boy in blue who has become almost as famous as the boys in green.

Those of us in the inky trade who have circled the planet on the coat tails of the Irish soccer team can legitimately claim to have racked up a few adventures in our time. But compared to Jim, we have barely moved out of the old neighbourhood. And, like I say, just reading about his travels is enough to induce acute jet-lag.

Jim, however, seems to take it all in his stride. One of the most striking aspects of ‘A Sporting Beat’ is the matter of fact, almost casual, way he announces his travel plans. Where you or I might say, “I think I’ll pop down to the shop for the paper”, Jim Ryan favours something like, “Tony O’ Sullivan and I decided that we would go to Nigeria for the U20 World Cup”.

Or: “With no Euro 2000 finals to go to, Tony, Jerry and I decided we would head to Australia for the Olympics”.

Or: “As the start of 2000 was a quiet one on the international front, with only a number of friendlies, Tony and I headed to Brest to cheer on Brian Kerr’s Under-18 team”.

Or: “With the Rugby World Cup, the Melbourne Cup and the Compromise Rules games all on at the same time in Australia in 2003, Jerry Mackey and I decided we could not let a sports feast like that happen without our presence, so we headed off again.”

I think you get the picture. And may already be feeling a touch overwhelmed yourselves. But those are just the opening paragraphs of various chapters. The closing pars would do your head in altogether. And then there’s all the stuff in between.

For example, one of the most memorable sections in the book is devoted to Jim and Tony O’ Sullivan’s trip to Nigeria to see the Irish U20 team perform in the 1999 World Cup. Armed with vacuum-packed sausages, rashers and puddings, our intrepid adventurers survive the heat and humidity, the bad roads and the threat of banditry, find accommodation and transport where and when they can and, somewhere along the way, manage to present Watergrasshill hurling ties to Joe Lynch, the Irish ambassador to Nigeria, and to the Irish team manager Brian Kerr.

After seeing the Irish bow out to the hosts in the northern town of Kano, Jim and Tony party with the team and, after an hour’s sleep, rise at 4.30 am for their flight back to Lagos. From there they manage, at short notice, to secure an early flight home. Which should be the end of the story, except that this is Jim Ryan telling it so we should hardly be surprised that, presented almost as an afterthought, there is the following final paragraph: “When I returned to Cork, I discovered that Cork City were playing against St Pat’s in Dublin, so we headed for Inchicore for a match that City should have won. I slept soundly that night”.

Jim Ryan in sleeping sensation — hold the front page! Most of the time, however, he’s on the move, always displaying an admirably friendly, good-humoured and curious attitude to whatever alien culture in which he happens to find himself (not excluding Dublin). Cork, inevitably, is never too far away. In St Petersburg, a shop name on a side-street catches his eye. “It looked familiar, even though it was in Russian,” Jim writes.

“We went in and discovered that it was a bookies owned by Liam Cashman, a bookmaker from Cork who was trying to show the Russians how to gamble and hopefully lose some money.”

The last time I met the author was in Rimini, the day before the game in San Marino. As I reported in these pages at the time (when, incidentally, I erroneously called him Mick, mea culpa), it was with some relief that he had managed to reach base camp since he had originally driven from Rome directly to San Marino, only to discover that it was a small village of the same name somewhere in northern Italy. But missing an entire country by about a hundred miles barely registers as a hiccup in the complicated but always entertaining travels of a man who estimates that he attends over 500 sporting events a year and whose record is 19 over what he describes, with admirable understatement, as “a long weekend”.

There’s plenty of good stuff about his life and times as a serving garda in the pages of ‘A Sporting Beat’ but it’s Jim Ryan’s obsession with sport, and the wonderfully diverse world to which that obsession has opened his eyes (not to mention his wallet), which more than justifies Brian Kerr’s glowing testimonial on the front cover: “The best ever book about the adventures of a dedicated sports fan.”

At the end of a week in which football fans and police have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons, here is a story and a story-teller to restore your faith in both.

(’A Sporting Beat’ by Jim Ryan is published by Onstream, priced €14.99).

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