Plastic Paddy jibes just water off Ryan’s back: 'I am Irish, I just have the wrong accent'

He knows what they say, the critics tapping away on message boards under the cloak of anonymity.

Plastic Paddy jibes just water off Ryan’s back: 'I am Irish, I just have the wrong accent'

He knows what they say, the critics tapping away on message boards under the cloak of anonymity.

Shane Ryan has seen the comments from those who believe he’s just a Plastic Paddy, using Ireland as a country of convenience.

If they met his parents they’d know different – his Dad is from Laois, his mother from Mayo – and if they saw the American-born swimmer spectating at his cousin’s GAA matches in Portarlington, it might change their mind.

Or maybe it wouldn’t, because the 25-year-old has learned the truth in that old adage about criticism – the only way to avoid it is to do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.

“People online will take anything they can to tear you down because they’re jealous,” he says.

I’m not dumb, I know what people are thinking but I am Irish; I just have the wrong accent.

Ryan grew up in an Irish community in Havertown, just outside Philadelphia, and has held an Irish passport since childhood. A standout swimmer for Penn State University, he narrowly missed the US World Championship team in 2013, after which he reached out to Swim Ireland about changing his country of allegiance.

He moved to Dublin in 2015, spending 15 long, lonely months on the build-up to the Rio Olympics living in an athletes’ house on the National Sports Campus. “I went from a college of 50,000 students and a social environment to a house that’s secluded from all life except bunnies and hares,” he says. “It was hard, but it builds character.” And most importantly: “It paid off.”

Last December Ryan won Ireland’s first ever medal at the World Senior Short Course Championships, his Irish record of 22.76 in the 50-metre backstroke earning him a brilliant bronze in Hangzhou, China. This arrived on the back of his gold medal at the 2017 University Games and bronze at the 2018 European Championships.

“We swim to get medals, to be at the top of the world,” he says.

It was good to see the tricolour raised at worlds. People are getting to know who we are and I’ve seen a huge turn in mentality.

At the Rio Olympics Ryan reached the semi-final in the 100m backstroke, bowing out in 14th place overall after a national record of 53.85. After that he returned to Penn State to complete his degree, but in January he returned to Ireland, where he will base himself until the Tokyo Olympics.

He shares a house in Tyrellstown with fellow swimmer Jordan Sloan and with his residence no longer cut off from civilisation, life is more enjoyable. “It’s a piece of cake this time,” he admits.

His training routine is anything but. Ryan’s alarm goes at 6:30am each morning and he’s in the pool an hour later. His first session typically takes three hours, with a two-hour session to follow in the afternoon and no shortage of dry-land workouts in the gym.

“You have to be comfortable in uncomfortable positions because when you do come to [races] your body is going to be ready,” he says. “My body is different now than it was three years ago and I’ve a different mindset too.” In recent weeks he booked his place at July’s World Championships in South Korea with an Irish record of 53.73 in the 100m backstroke at the Irish Open. In Abbotstown that day was a horde of relatives from Laois, 16 in all, and they should have much more to cheer in the coming months.

Right now Ryan is preparing to pit himself against some of the world’s best at tour events in Barcelona, Cannes and Paris, chiselling his form to a fine peak ahead of the World Championships in July.

“I want to go there and make a statement: that Irish swimming is here,” he says. “The way I’ve been dropping times in practice I’m really, really confident about what I can do.”

Circle K has announced its support of Team Ireland in a new agreement that will see the company become the Official Fuel and Convenience Partner to the Irish Olympic Team in their qualification journey and participation in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

More in this section

ieStyle Live 2021 Logo
ieStyle Live 2021 Logo

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails

Discover the great outdoors on Ireland's best walking trails

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
Execution Time: 0.265 s