Describing himself as an “inveterate” bookworm, Ryan simply devoured Guardiola’s take on his first season at Bayern Munich. And while admitting that he’s as likely to be found reading the back of a Cornflakes box or the Collins English Dictionary as he is Easons latest bestseller, the decision to tackle Pep Confidential was driven by an ulterior motive.
At 74-years young and the orchestrator of nine All-Ireland final wins with his latest flock, Ryan still considers himself a “student” of the game. Insight he sought from the two-time Champions League winning manager.
“The minute you think you know a good bit, something would happen and your left wondering how you’d been so dopey that you hadn’t seen it coming,” reckons the Cork ladies football manager.
“The spontaneous nature of the game is that you can’t plan for everything. In actual fact, you can plan for very little, except your own performance. Football, and managing football, is different to a game where you would have time-outs or specific set-plays.” What struck Ryan most was Guardiola’s ability not to put himself above his players; the skill to create an environment where players and manager were equal, even if control, to a large extent, still resided with the latter.
Ask Geraldine O’Flynn, Valerie Mulcahy or Bríd Stack to describe Eamonn Ryan’s style of management and they’ll more than likely paint the above picture.
“He [Guardiola] would try and put the players at the centre of the thing and he would try help the players express themselves, even though he was very regimental in his apportioning of positions on the field to players during the game.
“He seemed, I thought, obsessed with that, but he was still very cognisant of the need to communicate at a certain level to the players. He wasn’t talking down to them. He was appealing to their better instincts to do what he wanted them to do. He is quite a clever guy, I imagine.” Any managers closer to home he’d study?
“Oh yeah, I’d be pretty pathetic that way too. I would have gone to see the Tipperary hurlers train under Tommy Dunne and Declan Ryan, the Kerry footballers under Mick O’Dwyer. I was going to see the whole package, players, managers and the training methods.
“I would be sort of childish in the sense that even though I am in my seventies, I would still be looking up at someone like Seamus Harnedy. I forget that I am many years older than them, I see them as sort of icons.
“I’d have gone to Conor Counihan’s sessions. It would just to be there, to be in the milieu. It is pretty sad, I know.
“I went to see Ireland when they trained in Cork. I was promised access to a Chelsea training session once, but it fell through.” While never having ventured up to Nowlan Park to witness a session taken by Brian Cody, the glowing admiration he holds for the Kilkenny manager is obvious from the moment he enters conversation.
“I read his book and I would have chatted to him a few times. I would be very impressed by his single-mindedness, his focus, his pursuits of the goal that he sees and how he is relentless in his approach.
“He seems to have a vision of what he wants for the team and they have got to fit into that. Even though they are hugely talented players, they fitted into it. Take the last year or two. Hurling is my favourite game and I would have seen my first Munster championship hurling game in 1952. Now I wouldn’t have seen many players better than Tommy Walsh or Shefflin. They were subs last year and obviously didn’t cause any disturbance. They were obviously disappointed, but they didn’t cause a revolution.
“Shefflin got 10 minutes in one of the finals. Obviously, a player doesn’t like that, but they still figured this is what Cody wanted. You would have to admire both Cody and the players, that they were able to plough that furrow.”
Having overlooked Nollaig Cleary for a starting berth in last year’s final, despite she finishing the semi-final as the team’s top scorer from open play with 1-3, and calling ashore Valerie Mulcahy with 19 minutes remaining in their titanic quarter-final battle with Galway last month, there’s many would argue Ryan possesses a similar single-mindedness.
“No, I wouldn’t be tough enough at all.”
With the LGFA targeting a crowd of 30,000-plus for Sunday’s triple-header, Ryan is disappointed by the numbers who turn out to watch his team during the spring and summer.
“You would have an All-Ireland semi-final and you’d only have 400 or 500 people. It bothers me for them.”
In this light and now 10-years on from their maiden Brendan Martin triumph, have the game’s standard-bearers failed to bring ladies football in from the margins?
“The very fact that last year’s RTÉ Team of the Year award, [won by Cork], was decided by popular vote and not my media or a narrow coterie of experts, it was the people of the country who decided and the team got something like 25,000 votes. The next team got something like 18,000. That is testament to the impact they have made on sports followers.
“It pleased me for them and I would only be pretending if I didn’t say that I wasn’t pleased for myself too. That was a special night last year. More so that it was a popular vote, that it was the people of Ireland who kind of… I thought we could have won it 2007. I can remember being a small bit disappointed that time. I thought we were after performing well all that year.” Who did?
“Ah, no. That would be ungracious. I just thought we might have got it that year.”
It was the Irish Cricket team who denied Cork.
Be sure that Ryan will have turned every stone to ensure they are not denied again.