Unflappable Donnacha Ryan has plenty mileage left in the tank

Donnacha Ryan is, as is often the case, in jovial form as he parks his considerable frame into what looks like the smallest of chairs at Carton House. Just named in Ireland’s second row for today’s Six Nations battle with France, the conversation is cheery and wide-ranging.

At 33, the second row is back to the peak of his powers with Munster and Ireland after a frustrating series of injuries. 

He is energised to be playing regularly and hopeful that the time lost when sidelined over the last couple of years has left him with plenty of miles in the tank to keep playing well into his mid-30s.

Indeed, Ryan is in the sort of form that has him again linked with a move overseas, as was the case three years ago when he rebuffed Perpignan to sign an IRFU central contract, this time Racing 92 leading the chase to prise the forward from his beloved native province when that deal expires this June.

“I just want to focus on this weekend to be honest. I don’t think about that stuff and I’ll leave it for a time when I’m not close to games because you can get sidetracked but once I put all my cards on the table I’ll be able to make a decision on what I’m going to do.

“From a positive point of view it’s great to be involved this weekend and they’re the sort of small wins you build on. I’m feeling good and looking for a good performance.”

While he preferred to remain tight-lipped on his next contract, Ryan is more than happy shooting the breeze about pretty much any other subject.

“I read the Ger Loughnane book (by John Scally), Raising the Banner, when I was in college and it was a fantastic read,” he offers.

“I used to read an awful lot of sports books, and took a lot from them. 

“Some guys use sports psychologists and my mentality always was if it’s good for one person, great, but I like to be my own crutch if anything happens to me – if I get dropped, injured, whatever, contractual stuff, things like that – I’m going to deal with it. 

“You can’t keep ringing a sports psychologist at the drop of a hat so you need to be equipped with the language or the methods to get you out of that cycle as well. 

“I found reading all those books helped to articulate my thoughts. I found that really good. I’d read a few technical books, Mastering Your Inner Game, all that kind of stuff. 

“Sometimes they can be quite heavy and you can turn yourself upside down trying to overthink things but I think at that age you’re trying to cement your mentality and what you’re about and I suppose at the end of the day you really just can’t beat experience.

“You’ve just got to go through life and through the ups and downs and realise there’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself or whingeing and get on with it.

“I read Chris Eubanks’ book, Willie John McBride’s was a good book, Boris Becker’s too, but I really liked the Eubanks autobiography (published in 2003, when Ryan was 19) and I actually wrote him a letter and said ‘thanks very much, I really enjoyed your book, it’s really helped an aspiring athlete’.

“He wrote back as well, which was great. So there’s something that can strike a chord in a book or an article you read that might stay in your mind and it’s good to latch onto those kinds of things.

“Funnily enough I’ve never read any of the lads’ autobiographies, maybe I will when I retire. To write a book, it’s such a raw thing to do and anyone who does it, whatever their motivations, you have to tip your hat to them. I’m not going to write one, I wouldn’t even read it!

“My brother in law is a crime novelist, William Ryan, who’s won a Blood Dagger award and it’s a tough thing to do. The personal motivation and discipline involved, it’s a lot of hard work, incredible. So I’ll be leaving all that alone, I’ll just slip away quietly.”

Not just yet though. The string of injuries he suffered between 2014 and 2016, including a serious toe problem, restricted Ryan to 10 Munster appearances in 2013-14, seven the season after and 12 last season while he did not play for Ireland between March 2013 and August 2015. It is suggested to him, though, that there is plenty of mileage left to run.

“Weirdly enough, Paul O’Connell’s wife Emily said that to me and I’d never thought of it that way. 

“I was coming back to play having been out for so long and you’re questioning whether you can keep going when the game is so physical and she said ‘don’t worry, you’ll get it back in the back end (of your career). You’ll get that lost year back further down the line’.

“I’d have to agree with her. My job is basically micro-managed on the pitch via the GPS monitors we wear. I joke about the age thing a lot but whatever age you are is completely irrelevant purely on the basis that the GPS data tells you how you’re going.

“Fortunately enough I’m in the top three or four at training sessions in terms of relative intensity, metres and high-speed running – obviously the backs do more metres but we do a different type of intensity – but I’m fairly high up there and that’s a pretty good barometer.

“Look at Donncha O’Callaghan, I’ve been locking horns with him for years but my appreciation for him is through the roof. 

“He’s always looked after his body and in our gig your body’s your business and it shows that age is meaningless. He’s incredible and it’s no surprise he’s still going as well as he is and with that fantastic haircut.

“So I’d hope to get that time back at the back end of my career with the added value of being a lot more experienced, measured.

“But I don’t plan further than a week ahead.

“I’m focusing on this week and that’s it. Body-wise I’m feeling great but at the same time it’s not up to me and you’ve got to realise that.

“ I’d love to say I’m going to do what O’Callaghan’s doing and keep going but you can only do that one day at a time.”

Ryan on...

CJ Stander’s man of the match awards

“They’re all 100% justified. I imagine he’d prefer a few vouchers or something he could use. Vases wouldn’t be his cup of tea.

“I think we’re so lucky to have one of the best players in the world. He’s a fantastic professional, a lovely guy and he’s bought into everything we have in Ireland and he’s a great team-mate. 

“He’s great with everybody and as a professional rugby player he’s the whole package. 

“That’s what CJ brings and he’s been great for Munster as well as Ireland but all the vases are turning into a bit of a joke.”

Sunday nights at the movies

“The last film I went to see was that Ben Affleck one, Live By Night. 

“Basically, I go to the cinema on a Sunday night. Back in the day, the lads all used to go for pints, now it’s just popcorn. 

“Living the dream! Trying to recover for Monday. 

“The last boxset I watched was Narcos, which was great but I wouldn’t have the time.” 

Listening to Lance Armstrong

“I’m big into podcasts at the moment. Weirdly enough and he’s quite controversial but I listen a lot to Lance Armstrong’s The Forward podcast. 

“It’s an hour long and he interviews interesting people from a business or sporting background. 

“I enjoyed the interview he did with Bo Jackson, the former baseball and NFL star, it was fantastic. 

“It’s a really good format, very relaxed and it’s better than all the doom and gloom in the news right now. 

“I find it very very interesting but my guilty pleasure is the Ross O’Carroll Kelly podcast, hilarious.”

Golf

“I’d love to play the 13th at Augusta National. Hit a draw and go for it with the second shot but I don’t know, I’d hardly be able to hit it out of my way. 

“The summer is the only time I get to dig a few holes, we’re like the county council going around the golf course with my dad! 

“He’s hilarious to play with. I used to play off single figures when I was 16 but time is the thing and a dislocated shoulder here and there... “



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