Richie Ryan’s curious journey from Limerick to Kildare

After their convincing win away to Laois last weekend, Kerry hurling manager Ciarán Carey took aim at a “silly motion” tabled for this year’s GAA’s Annual Congress and opened fire.
Richie Ryan’s curious journey from Limerick to Kildare

The motion in question puts Rule 6.9 of the official guide under the microscope. That directive centres on a designated ‘Special Eligibility Provision for Hurling’ which, in essence, is a special dispensation allowing emerging counties up to five outside players per year.

It’s a rule that many stakeholders in the GAA have a serious problem with, including some top Croke Park officials, but it has been in place in some form or other since 2006 and was re-tweaked in 2010.

Subsequently, there are countless examples of players linking up with tier-two counties and the special provision has enabled All-Ireland winners like David Kennedy and Paddy O’Brien to play for Kildare whilst still playing for their native clubs. More recently, it allowed Patrick Kelly, a 2013 All-Ireland winner with Clare, to land a Christy Ring title with Kerry in 2015.

At next weekend’s Congress, Armagh want that rule deleted from the official guide and Carey is not impressed with that.

“It’s a silly one, but I’m powerless with that, I have no control over that,” he says.

“Of course, the rule should stand. Kerry have only seven or eight clubs. The GAA would be duty-bound to help weaker counties and this is only a simple suggestion. It isn’t five or six players, we have one player.”

Now, another Limerick man Joe Quaid, in charge of Kildare, has an issue of a different kind with playing eligibility issues.

When Quaid was interviewed by the Kildare board last winter, the issue of designated players came up, but the two-time All-Star said there would be no designated players on his watch. He insisted that if a player wanted to line out for the county, that player would first have to transfer to a Kildare club and make the move, lock, stock and barrel.

“We are here solely to promote Kildare hurling,” the former Limerick keeper explains.

“My main aim is to develop hurling here and not just come in for three years with a wham-bam effort and leave no foundations when we go. The easiest thing in the world for me — and the other managers in a similar situation — to do would be to bring in five players from stronger hurling counties who are not getting a game, pick them for Kildare at the cost of a local lad, and allow those stronger guys hurl for their own clubs back home.

“We might win the Christy Ring and it would look bloody great on the CV, but the arse would fall out of it a year later. There would be no foundations laid. So, we decided to take a different approach.”

Instead, they draw from a youthful panel of 30, all hungry, committed and local. One of those is Johnny Byrne, from Allenwood, who has also forged his way onto Cian O’Neill’s senior football team, but still insists on playing hurling, which speaks volumes for Quaid’s set-up.

Indeed, the only player drafted in from the outside is Ahane’s Richie Ryan, who has fulfilled his manager’s wishes by agreeing to transfer to Naas. Quaid hopes Ryan will help develop players in Naas and, in turn, help the county.

“Richie met my criteria which means transferring to a club here. We are putting in the time and effort and to be part of our camp you must help with the local club scene. The days of patronising tier-two counties is over and Richie is respectful to that. He is living in Kildare, working here and wants to do things right.”

Richie Ryan: Satisfied Quaid by transferring to Naas club, but, ironically, this has prevented him from playing for Kildare.
Richie Ryan: Satisfied Quaid by transferring to Naas club, but, ironically, this has prevented him from playing for Kildare.

However, the rule book prevents Quaid — and Ryan — from going any further with the switch.

The official guide states that Ryan must first play championship for Naas before he can play for Kildare again. With the Kildare championship not starting until later in the year — weeks after the Christy Ring Cup is completed — Ryan may not play for Kildare again in 2016.

“Richie’s move has been looked at twice by the GAA,” his frustrated manager says. “The Hurling Development Committee and Central Controls Committee have both looked at it, but they state that Richie needs to first play for Naas in the championship before he is eligible for Kildare. Which is complete nonsense, because if he was still an Ahane player he could be in our team in the morning as a designated transfer.”

When contacted on this matter, a leading GAA official said the rule of having to play in a club championship game before representing an adopted county was there to prevent players from leapfrogging from team to team.

“It was happening way too often and it was a problem in London particularly,” the official stated.

“Players were going across to play in London and spending the summer there hurling before transferring back home and playing in their native championships. It completely went against the ethos of the GAA. Players were hopping here, there and everywhere.

“So, the rule of playing club championship first is there only to solidify our ethos. It applies across the board. Everyone must abide by it.

“The options now for Kildare are to either bring their club championship forward to facilitate the player — and they have done that before (the controversial Seanie Johnston case) — or to transfer the player back to his native club and let him play for Kildare as a designated hurler.” Quaid struggles to understand that viewpoint.

“To me that’s just crazy,” he says, shaking his head. “Do the GAA want us to win a title with five outside players and then be gone out the gate?

“Richie Ryan fits the criteria. He wanted to transfer to Naas, he was living there and we are playing by the rules. We’re not interested bringing in lads who have been dropped by bigger counties and we are only trying to improve local players. We have been blessed with a great bunch and Kildare should be proud of them, but it’s tough going. Last weekend, we were beaten by a Carlow team that gets special funding from the GAA.

“Meanwhile, we motor on by ourselves. Niall Ronan, the former Munster and Ireland rugby player, is our strength and conditioning coach and gives us a great lift. We have game-specific coaches, a goal-keeping expert, statistical packages, a sports psychologist and we’re trying hard to do everything professional.

“The underage work going on in counties like Limerick and Clare is massive, but the boys here are doing just as much. They log into a Facebook group page every day, sharing recipes and promoting good nutrition. Their professionalism is unreal. They look after themselves as well as any tier one team, because that’s where they want to play.

“We are doing things right but Richie’s case is a kick in the stones. The rule needs to be looked at again.”

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