There’s an old Greek proverb from Aesop’s fables, ‘Be careful what you wish for, for you may get it’.
For a few years now it’s been the wish of TJ Ryan that he would get the position of Limerick senior hurling manager; a few months ago, following the surprise resignation of John Allen, TJ got his wish.
With Limerick having won the Munster title this year, with the team having come so close to eventual champions Clare in the All-Ireland semi-final despite under-performing, with former manager Donal O’Grady also back in the frame (this time as coach), expectations are now soaring within the county that 2014 could finally be Limerick’s year.
If it isn’t, if there’s a setback, well, still living in his native Garryspillane and with much of his work in the city and county, there will be no hiding place for the affable Ryan.
So, careful what you wish for? “I know, it’s a daunting role. When it becomes available you really want it but then when you get it you can sit back and you’re wondering — what have I let myself in for?
“The reality though is that I’m not on my own. I run a business in Limerick, Cube Printing, in partnership with Brendan Ring and I find that no matter what happens within the business, having that other guy there, it makes life an awful lot easier for both of us.
“It will be the same now with Limerick, having Donal and myself there together. With his experience and his genius at doing this, that takes away some of that daunting part of it. And he is brilliant at what he does, I really enjoyed it the last time I worked with him and when the opportunity came around again I jumped at it.
“I’ll be looking after the majority of the off-field stuff — dealing with the county board, the logistics etc; Donal will be far more hands-on, he’ll be mainly responsible for the coaching side, but we’ll all be crossing over, helping out wherever we’re needed — no-one will be concentrating on only one element.”
Nevertheless Ryan is the first name on the ticket, he will be seen as the main man and thus first in the firing line if anything goes wrong.
“Yes but that doesn’t concern me. Everything I do will be done with the best interests of the team at heart, to try to get the best possible results.
“I don’t play politics, I won’t be making decisions to try to please or impress, I’ll be making them in the best interests of the team.
“When you do that, when you’re doing things to the best of your ability, when you’re fair to everyone, you can walk away with your head high — I don’t think anyone can have complaints with you then.”
They will though, that’s the reality and it applies in every county, every sport. I know — I see it even before we start! Even in Clare, after winning the All-Ireland this year I know people who aren’t happy with Davy Fitz, who did an incredible job. But you don’t do it for the glory.
“The genuine GAA supporter knows what’s going on, they can see beyond the obvious. It’s not a popularity contest, it’s about trying to progress Limerick hurling, bringing whatever you have to the table, maybe do things a little differently.
“The standard of hurling that Limerick has reached now is up there but that won’t be enough — this is about constant improvement, about finding that little extra percentage.
“Ultimately what you’re looking for is to get the team to play to its maximum potential; whether that then is good enough to win an All-Ireland is another question but that’s the aim.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge of all facing Ryan and the new management team though will be getting the players’ heads right.
With a well-documented history of heartbreak, getting players to believe, getting them to break that ultimate barrier, the barrier inside their own minds, that’s the problem.
“You don’t monkey around with history and tradition, it’s there, it’s a fact — of course it’s a challenge to get past that. But I played on a Garryspillane team that had never won a county and we made the breakthrough. It’s difficult, that’s true, but when you know that you have the talent, when you know that you have the best team in the county — and that’s how we felt — it’s possible.
“We had won an U21 A county title, we had won the All-Ireland Sevens, so we had those little pointers; it was a question of building on that. This year Limerick took the first step, won a first Munster title since 1996. History and tradition can play on the mind but history is being written all the time, isn’t it?
“I’m a Limerick supporter first and foremost, I’d be optimistic always, that’s my nature. We’re only getting started, we’re trying to get the structures in place that will enable us play to the best of our ability. I can’t say we’re going to win the All-Ireland but if we can get the team to perform to their maximum, our job is done. Deep down in my heart I believe it’s possible.”
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