MUNSTER has always taken pride in producing its own. Indigenous talent has been the bedrock of its success, and while a vibrant club game once provided the raw materials for the first generation of professional players, the provincial Academy is now viewed as the direct route to professional ranks.
Talent is spotted and targeted at an early age, a thorough identification process in place throughout the province which commences with players aged 14.
Below Academy level, the players would have been monitored in both the Schools and Youths systems, but the success of the game at youths level has grown immeasurably. Schools rugby was traditionally seen as the main provider of talent to the senior side, but a sign of the times is the fact that the four Academy nominees for the 2009 John McCarthy Award at this year’s Munster Rugby Awards have all come through the Youths system.
Dave Ryan is a product of Youths, following in the footsteps of his brother Tim, who is a year older and also a product of the Youths and Munster Academy systems. Standing at 6ft and under 18 stone, Dave could be viewed as the modern prototype for a prop: strong, technically proficient, comfortable on both sides of the scrum with good ball-handling skills.
Rugby entered Dave’s life at nine. Though no history of rugby exists in his family — his father Pa played hurling and football for Newcestown in west Cork — rugby consumed him. After his parents moved back from America (his mother Maureen comes from Chicago) and settled in Cork, both Dave and Tim joined Highfield. There he was made a prop, remaining with ‘Field until moving across town to Dolphin last season for what he described as “a new challenge”.
As a fourth year student at Coláiste An Spioraid Naoimh in Bishopstown, the thought of moving to CBC for a shot at the Munster Schools Senior Cup had entered his mind, but he opted to continue his rugby education at Highfield. That decision didn’t impact on national selection, while the Munster Academy board had already spotted him as “one for the future”. He captained Ireland Youths, represented his country at U-19 and U-21 level and is currently spear-heading Dolphin’s charge for a top four finish in the AIL.
“There is a great spirit in Dolphin, I’m really enjoying my rugby,” says Dave. “It was hard to leave Highfield, very hard. I learnt my rugby there and was captain of the senior side for the two seasons before my move. I needed a new challenge, I needed to play Division One rugby to help my progression and it has really helped this year.”
Now in his final year at the Academy, professionalism beckons, but the 22-year-old knows the next step will be an even steeper learning curve. All members are given advice to maximise personal, educational and career development and Dave is insuring for the future by completing a Building and Services Engineering degree at Cork IT. The ultimate goal, though, is a senior contract; he has trained with Munster seniors and ascribes one word to demonstrate their success and longevity: dedication.
“There’s a quiet confidence about them as well. It’s not cockiness, but they know their abilities. Good hard work is part of the reason they are where they are. Munster is not the biggest club with the biggest budget but hard work brings through the players. That’s instilled in you at 17; that you have to work hard when you come up against bigger sides. You have to show heart.
“Obviously I’d like to be breaking in, but props take a bit longer to develop. Four or five years down the line I’d like to be competing at a higher level. You’re going to come into this unless you have a realistic chance of making it. Tim has said to me it definitely takes time — it’s like trying to break into Man United when you’re younger — Munster are the European champions not just some second ranked club.
“When you get your chance, you gotta take it. I look up to John Hayes and Marcus, but then there’s the likes of Carl Hayman who is a great scrummaging prop — a great fella to watch because he’s a superb tight head. His body position is perfect for a big man. He’s able to get low. Freddie (Puciariello) is also a good technician as well.
“Props are getting more comfortable on the ball because of more skill work. Everyone wants to be a rugby player, everyone wants to be able to show what they can do. John Hayes this season is carrying more ball than ever before. And lifting in the lineout — John Hayes is one of the best in the world at that too.”
The road may be long and hard to reach the Bull’s level, but Ryan is determined to make that journey.
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