Part of Limerick’s football furniture since 2008, Ryan, in the absence of the injured Iain Corbett, will captain the Treaty County in this Sunday’s Munster quarter-final bout at home to Clare. Limerick haven’t won a match in Munster since 2012 and yet Ryan is as optimistic as ever that an upturn in the county’s provincial fortunes lies just around the corner.
That optimism stems largely from his involvement with the Limerick team of the mid-noughties. He joined a panel which held no inhibitions about facing Kerry or Cork. Standing toe-to-toe with Munster’s dominant pair was the basic expectation of Mickey Ned O’Sullivan’s group and the provincial decider was reached in Ryan’s second and third season on the scene.
Excellent games, a pretty decent Limerick team, but no Munster medal. Pangs of regret still reside. 2009, in particular, cuts deep.
Ryan, playing in his first provincial decider, sparkled at centre-forward and took Graham Canty for four points from play.
“We are always saying we were unlucky in those Munster finals we lost out in, but we were particularly unlucky that day,” says Ryan of their 2-6 to 0-11 defeat in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
“Cork got a penalty before half-time. I’d debate that still, to be honest. It still gets to me.
“That is one that definitely got away. We had so many close ones. The Munster final in 2010 when we were seven down and brought it back. We had chances there to put ourselves in a winning position, but we didn’t take them. Kerry were cuter on the day. The better chance was the day in Cork.”
From the team which started the ’09 Munster final, five remain — Ryan, Seanie Buckley, Pa Ranahan, Johnny McCarthy and Paudie Browne. The make-up of the dressing-room has changed a fair bit over the years, but the goal remains the same.
“I just want to play in another Munster final. You always dream of getting that medal. That is the difference between Cork, Kerry and the four so-called weaker counties. We are there to win a Munster. They, Cork and Kerry, are there to win an All-Ireland. That is what drives us. That is why you keep going back training every Tuesday and Thursday.
“We can definitely get back there. It is all about keeping the young fellas involved. We have lost so many good players who would be 25, 26 and 27. They either lost interest or went away travelling or there have been personal reasons, like work and other stuff. If we can keep this young group of players together, there is a future there. They have a great attitude. They have great work ethic, which is fantastic. But they are still so young and still have so much to learn. If they can give it another year or two, there is definitely something there.”
Gearóid Hegarty, Danny Neville, Cian Sheehan, Paul White and Seán O’Dea are among the raft of young players brought into the fold by manager John Brudair over the past two and a half years. Ryan, at 27, now considers himself one of the elder statesmen. He’s no intention, though, of giving way to the younger generation. He’ll instead offer a guiding hand in the same manner John Galvin, Stephen Lucey, Stephen Lavin and others showed him the ropes eight years ago.
Indeed, his league form which saw him finish the spring as the county’s top scorer — the St Senan’s forward averaged 0-5 per game — would suggest he’s already some distance down the road in ticking the leadership box.
Ryan’s point that this is a team with “much to learn” is backed up by a pretty bleak league campaign. Six defeats from seven outings means Division 4 football awaits them in 2017. Spring form, he argues, which included a 1-14 to 0-11 defeat to Sunday’s opposition on home turf at the end of February, is irrelevant this weekend.
“In the league, we got caught in a rut. When you are stuck in a rut, it is very hard to get out of it, in the same way that winning becomes a habit. Clare got on a roll in Division 3 and winning came easily to them.
“Definitely, we have a point to prove. We want to show we are better than that. We want to show we are better than Division 4. We want to do ourselves justice because we feel we let each other down during the league.”