Brian Cody has always railed against the notion that there are hurlers growing on trees in Kilkenny and yet every year another handful of unfamiliar faces blossom as spring cedes to summer.
None more so this year than Lester Ryan.
Ryan was a virtual unknown when the league started earlier this year. Right half-back on the last Kilkenny U21 side to win an All-Ireland, in 2008, he had spent the last two years flitting about the fringes of the senior panel.
A knee cartilage injury last season hadn’t helped, but then the cruel fates struck Michael Fennelly, Michael Rice and Cillian Buckley and Ryan found himself thrust front and midfield.
Skip ahead a few months and he is sitting in a corporate box faced by eight tape recorders and a barrage of questions and he fielded them with an ease that echoed the performances which earned him the accolade of GAA/GPA Player of the League.
So, how has it been?
“Coming from having trained with Kilkenny, the standard is very high. Especially the training matches. After that it’s about trying to get the most out of yourself for the matches and stay going for the 70 minutes.
“The hardest thing is getting used to going for a 60-minute match to a 70-minute match. You really feel those last 10 minutes.
“But once you get used to it, it’s about having your head right every time you go out and getting a performance.”
Ryan did at least have the benefit of being battle-hardened when taking the step-up thanks to Clara’s successful All-Ireland Intermediate Club campaign which they brought to a close just a handful of weeks before Kilkenny’s league opener against Galway.
The first Ryan knew about getting his big break came on the Friday night before that match when the team was announced.
Cody, like he has done year after year, has kept faith with the less experienced man even when more established players have returned and so it has been with Ryan, who put in outstanding displays in the league semi-final and final.
He already has two Celtic Crosses to his credit, even though he has yet to feature in the championship, but you wouldn’t bet against him taking the throw-in when Kilkenny travel to Tullamore to open their Leinster championship defence against Offaly on June 9.
“I think being part of the panel in the first place is a huge honour,” he says of his more pronounced role.
“You know you’re part of something big. And being on the panel and pushing everyone else in training, you know you’re part of a set-up.
“But personal ambition would dictate that all players want to get on the team. So in that sense, you’re trying to push for a place on the team. It’s more enjoyable playing in Croke Park than being in the stands in Croke Park.”
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