Wexford reap benefits of Ryan’s U-turn

AT just 34 and with an All-Ireland semi-final already on his CV, Jason Ryan could be Gaelic football’s answer to Andre Villas-Boas — but his biggest lesson in management to date was one shared by Alex Ferguson, a man three decades his elder.

Ten years ago, the man from Govan announced he was embarking on his last season at Old Trafford. It was a decision he would regret and one that looks all the more premature now given his continued residency at Manchester United.

Ryan fell victim to the same circumstances before last season when he declared the 2010 campaign would be his last with Wexford. His three-year term was up and that was that. He was happy to walk away. Or so he thought.

“I made a decision,” Ryan said. “At the end of year two I said, ‘one more year and that’s it’ but then, I don’t know, is it an addiction? When you are working with a group of guys, focused on getting better, they’re improving, willing to learn, it’s a great buzz.

“It’s a great feeling to be amongst them. For someone to say that you can’t do that anymore, that you are going to walk away from it, I would have found it hard. I went back to the board and said, ‘I would really like to do this for another year please’.”

Coming back wasn’t a decision he made lightly.

Ryan’s original motivation to step down was his desire to play again. He still holds some vague hopes of togging out for his club in Waterford but the feeling that he would be “cheating” the Wexford players by devoting time to something else holds him back.

No, if he was to come back this year, it was going to be all or nothing and that has required sacrifices given he is the father to a pair of youngsters under two. As is so often the case, his partner shouldered most of the burden.

Ryan’s wife, Suzanne, was already leaning towards extending her maternity leave to look after the little ones for a while longer but Ryan’s desire to return to the line with Wexford fastened her mind to stay at home.

“If my wife went back to work I probably wouldn’t have been able to do the job,” Ryan revealed. “I wouldn’t have made the time. We’re lucky that she got a year’s leave of absence at work. It’s freed up the time to do this so I have to be thankful to Suzanne.”

When he started the job, Ryan was under the misconception that training would demand the majority of his time. The years since have shown him the error of those beliefs and how areas such as administration and video analysis can eat into a day.

In some respects though, it is easier now.

When he took command in November of 2007, he was inheriting a Wexford side that narrowly missed promotion to the top tier of the league and one unlucky not to make a Leinster final, but this was a county where hurling was the one true gospel.

That is still the case despite the upward graph plotted by the footballers and the flat line accompanying the senior hurlers of late — but Ryan doesn’t get as many rejections when he picks up the phone to players as he used to.

“Now we have guys from traditional hurling clubs and guys who might have played more soccer who are playing football with Wexford. There are guys that are dual players at the moment as well.

“We have a number of U21 hurlers in our panel and they are very talented footballers. A few years ago that just wouldn’t have happened.”

Other chips are still stacked heavily against them. As was the case three years ago, they find Dublin standing between them and a first provincial title since 1945 this Sunday.

Already familiar with Croke Park, Dublin’s home in all but name, Ryan believes the opportunity to hone their style and system on the same patch of grass will stand to Pat Gilroy’s side.

Unfair?

“Of course it is, but it is what it is. Just as much as we’d love to have them playing against us in Wexford Park, it is great for them to be in Croke Park.”

Picture: DECISION: Wexford’s Jason Ryan says he would have regretted walking away. Picture: Stephen McCarthy

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