Selling Christy Ryan the idea of being interviewed is as entertaining as the official chat itself.
Phone call one: “I hate to break it to you but I’m not togging out!”
Phone call two: “I’m just shopping for tiles here and I’m going to push the boat out now the Examiner are paying me to talk.
“You want a photo too? You’ll be paying for my haircut, surely?”
Phone call 3: “It’s about time you got some profile,” you proffer.
“Sure, I have that already!”
The reason for the conversation is obvious. The gregarious Newcastle-on-Fergus man is one of the characters that will form part of this year’s Munster SHC summer. When Cork and Tipperary come to Ennis next month, it will be Ryan who not necessarily rolls out the red carpet but attempts to blow away any potential red mist. The council have their own able men in the likes of Robert Ryan and Kieran McGann to help do that but the expertise of Ryan will also be called upon.
He doesn’t have an official title — “look for nothing and you can do anything,” he quips — but ‘Cusack Park sideline invigilator’ or ‘senior steward’ would be close to it.
“You’re able to talk to people,” is how Clare secretary Pat Fitzgerald presented the role to him several moons ago.
A sense of decorum prevents Ryan from detailing the potential rows he diffused and the one he couldn’t head off but there have been more than a few since he first volunteered in Cusack Park in 1982.
Groundsman for two years including in the GAA’s centenary year, he filled most positions there before becoming the jolly bouncer.
“You’re trying to keep everybody cool on the day because they’re hot when they come out and you want them to cool down a bit. I’d be telling managers and selectors that ‘we’re here to help, not hinder ye’.
“At the same time, you have to go by the rules. A lot of them have changed in the last few years. Everything comes from Croke Park now and there are a few ones you have to be aware of like who’s allowed onto the pitch.
I’d say 90% of people over a team I don’t have a problem with. When a game is over I say, ‘Thanks very much for your cooperation’ and that’s it. It’s nice to be nice, like.
Protecting them is as much a part of the gig.
“When it’s over, you just want to make sure everybody gets off the field okay and the officials and make sure the referee gets a cup of tea and small little things like that. If anyone has a problem they have my number!”
Years of umpiring for Seánie McMahon and Kevin Walsh gave Ryan an acute awareness of how much the day means to all of the participants.
The players, obviously. “When I was doing umpire I was very conscious of the players training all year not to make a mistake. I saw what my own nephew Colin put in and players don’t have a social life for most of the year. The one thing I was most disappointed about was when he didn’t win an All-Star in 2013 after the All-Ireland medal but then a lot of others didn’t get them when they should have.”
But his concern extends as equally to officials and stewards. “I got away with a lot of things playing in goal but my name was never taken, I was never sent off in any sport I played in. My number one was you have respect for the people doing the job — referees, umpires, stewards. There should be more respect for them, particularly the stewards because so many aren’t paid and you have to appreciate them.
“On the day of a big match, you have to be strict with your stewards. Our event organiser in Cusack Park is John Fawl and he’s very good. There was a meeting with stewards there recently and the message is clear what they have to do.
“Getting stewards is getting tougher though because the majority of them are tied up with their own clubs. I would like to see for the big games stewards each being given a ticket by the Munster Council as a gesture for what they do on the day. You’re showing you appreciate the job they’re doing and you might get more interest from people in doing it.”
His great friendship with long-standing GAA patron Martin Donnelly opened avenues Ryan could only have dreamed of. He bemoans the end of the interprovincials.
“It took me to Boston, Rome, Paris, London,” he recalls, “And Ennis.”
In light of what Donnelly has given to the GAA, it also irritates Ryan that he hasn’t been given due recognition.
“The fact Donnelly hasn’t been awarded a president’s award yet disappoints me.
From the time he gave me an MD tie back in 1992 when he sponsored Clare, I was stuck with him. There’s one thing with me and that’s I’m very loyal to people. I’d have great time for Pat Fitzgerald too because he has to measure everything. You can’t make 5,000 tickets out of 3,500 tickets. You have to understand how he has to work.
But that loyalty Ryan has shown has been reciprocated. When he and his family began to organise the Pakie Ryan Memorial 10K in honour of Ryan’s son who passed away from cancer 10 years ago, boxer Bernard Dunne, who was backed by Donnelly during his career, and a host of GAA personalities were there to support the event. Since 2010, they’ve raised over €300,000 for local charities including Milford Hospice.
“It wasn’t just the GAA but the whole community in Newmarket helped us. Organising the charity event, we didn’t have time to think of anything else. We got on with it. Lord have mercy, Pakie would often say that there were other people worse off. He had a great attitude.”
When Liam Sheedy turns up to Ennis on June 2, he and Ryan will embrace, Sheedy having been part of the Newmarket-on-Fergus managerial ticket when they claimed a county senior hurling title in 2012. But the pair go much further back than that.
“I was umpiring when Tipp played Laois a good few years back and Sheedy got sent off. He came over to me and asked, ‘Why did I get sent off?’ ‘But,’ says I, ‘why did you hit your man?’ ‘Fair enough,’ he said.”
After that, it’s the visit of Cork to Ennis for a first ever Munster SHC game yet the momentousness of that occasion goes over Ryan’s head.
“You can talk about it being a bit of history but there’s a game to be won.”
Marshalling the whitewash, Ryan will be Solomon-like but there can be no mistaking where his loyalties lie. Tipperary and Cork should know that too. “I would hope they do,” he chuckles, “But I’ll be keeping my mouth shut.”