Waterford taliswoman for the past two decades Michelle Ryan has called time on her inter-county career.
The 34-year-old footballer from Ballymacarbry played for 19 seasons and served under six managers as she re-established the Déise as a top-eight team.
“It’s something I’ve been mulling over the last number of weeks and months,” Ryan told WLR’s On The Ball show.
It was a very difficult decision. I have a huge emotional attachment to playing with Waterford and my heart will always want to play for as long as I possibly can. Mentally and physically, it was probably the right time.
With her father Michael training club and county teams from 1982 onwards, Michelle became the team mascot from a young age. “I enjoyed getting into the back of the van with all the gear and watching training.”
Ryan joined the panel in 2001 while still a minor. Waterford fell on hard times, however, and suffered relegation in 2009.
After losing two All-Ireland intermediate finals, they returned to the senior ranks in 2015 with a 3-14 to 0-10 win against Kildare at Croke Park. Ryan scored 1-3 off the bench including a late goal set up by her younger sister Sinead. “To all of us who were involved that day, that will always be the absolute pinnacle. It was years in the making.”
Ryan was named Munster ladies player of the year in 2017, kicking five points from play against Cork in Fraher Field as Waterford beat the Rebelettes for the first time since 2003. “Playing in 2017 meant an awful lot to me personally. At the start of the year, it was one of the toughest times to come back into the inter-county set-up. Pat Sullivan and his management team were great.”
She helped maintain Waterford’s senior status in 2018 with two first-half goals in a relegation play-off against Tipperary. Regaining Division 1 status last season was another major milestone, with her 3-3 in the Division 2 semi-final against Cavan a blast from the past. “I think the last time I got 3-3 I was playing a primary school nine-a-side down in Walsh Park when I was very, very young.”
Her early goal in the final sent Waterford on their way to victory over Kerry. Michael embraced her at the final whistle.
She is the proud owner of Division 1, Division 2, and Division 3 medals. The Division 1 title came in her first season on the panel and she remembers the aftermath of that win over Mayo for an unusual reason:
“It was around the time that drug testing was introduced in ladies football and at the end of the game, while we were all celebrating, someone appeared by my side and told me that I had been selected for a drug test. I couldn’t but laugh because I was number 29 on the panel at the time. It was myself and Deirdre Breathnach. We missed the whole banquet afterwards, missed all the food, and were brought off for a few hours.”
She was selected on the team of the league four times and was twice nominated for All-Star. She boasts five interprovincial titles with Munster. Not to mention 21 senior medals with Ballymacarbry. And counting.