Tomorrow afternoon you’ll find the 6’4 footballer in a very different guise.
Despite holding the club’s number 15 shirt, Ryan will line out between the sticks in the curtain-raiser at Croke Park. Versatile is putting it very mildly.
The Rathmore youngster maintains his role has always been an outfield one as far as the club is concerned, a Killarney Celtic coach realising Ryan’s goalkeeping potential a number of years back.
Kerry minor manager Jack O’Connor also saw fit to utilise him at the other end of the field and he has only conceded five goals in five outings this summer, while also contributing on the scoreboard in all but one of their games en-route to the final.
What started out as a summer soccer camp trial has lent itself to a fledgling inter-county career. “With my club all the way up along I played outfield. It was only when I started playing soccer in the camps during the summer that I was put into goal. It was only supposed to be a kind of a trial thing,” recalls the Kerry minor captain.
“One of the coaches asked me to come and play with Killarney Celtic. I decided to give it a go and played with them for three seasons. It went well and I played soccer for Kerry in the Kennedy Cup. That transferred onto the GAA field when I was put in goal for the South Kerry U14 development squad. I have been stuck there ever sense.
“Playing outfield for Rathmore has helped me big time in developing as a goalkeeper. When you play outfield you handle so much ball so your handling skills are obviously much better than if you were confined to goal all day long. As a forward you see a lot of ball but are in pressure situations and have to make quick decisions. That benefits me hugely when wearing number 1. Also the fact that you learn to kick with both legs helps when you are caught in a tight situation in goal, you can get out of it easier when you are competent with both feet. It gives you confidence that if you can survive out the field you can survive on the line.”
Above everything else, however, time spent at corner-forward has enabled Ryan to adapt to the changing role of a goalkeeper. A student of Stephen Cluxton and Paul Durcan, Ryan insists being an excellent shot-stopper no longer defines the modern day custodian. “Goalkeeping has changed dramatically in the last ten years compared to when I was watching Diarmuid Murphy as a child. Nowadays, a goalkeeper is expected to pick out a man 40 yards away and put the ball into his chest. The game has changed so much that now a goalkeeper has nearly to be more skilful than an outfield player from the ground. Moreover, it’s in every goalkeeper’s agenda now to be hitting 45s.
“As regards the kick-outs, there are two elements, distance and accuracy. Even when playing outfield with the club you would still practice the frees off the ground. It’s a skill you have to keep in touch with and practice, you can’t let it go for a certain amount of weeks. You have to keep sharp.”
So, which does end of the field does he prefer?
“When it comes to big match days you just want to be involved in the action. You don’t care where you play. You see the hype about the place, you just want to be involved in an inter-county set-up and even though the intensity of the matches is outfield, when you are in goals you are able to take it all in. You can’t do that playing outfield. So I am happy to play in goal, happy to be part of this minor team.”
Six members of O’Connor’s starting team experienced All-Ireland glory at GAA HQ with Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne this spring, but the captain believes nothing will prepare them for the cauldron of noise they will encounter tomorrow.
“I suppose most of us would not have played in front of more than four or five thousand before, except for the Munster final. Croke Park is daunting and it is more daunting for younger players because it is where you dreamed of playing all your life.
“Suddenly you are here, standing on the hallowed turf, and it can pass you by unless you grasp the occasion and savour it. But I think we got rid of any nerves in the semi-final. We got rid of the cobwebs as it were and we now look forward to the final. Hopefully we can enjoy it.”