A long way from Clare to here

TALK of history is unavoidable in the run-up to Sunday’s FAI Cup final between Derry City and St Patrick’s Athletic, what with this being the last soccer game at the old Lansdowne Road and also an opportunity for the Dublin club to land its first FAI Cup in a staggering 45 years.

And then there are the personal circumstances which can lend another special dimension to one of the biggest days in the domestic football calendar. In the case of Pat’s goalkeeper Barry Ryan, it’s bound to be an especially emotional occasion.

“I’m the first Clareman to play in an FAI Cup final and that’s another bit of history,” he points out. “But it’s also the day of my Dad’s mass on Sunday; it’s two years since he died. My Dad used to play for Cork Celtic as a centre-forward. I started out at centre forward and in midfield myself but we had no goalie one day so I ran in and it just took off from there.

“So Sunday is a big day for me. A massive day for my family and all my friends at home. There’s three or four buses coming up from Ennis, from the local pub, from the GAA club, the rugby club, and another pub has another one coming as well. The rumour going around Ennis is that half the town is coming up.”

It may be a long way from Clare to here but it has also been a long personal journey for Ryan, whose nine month ban after testing positive for a recreational drug while playing for Shamrock Rovers in 2003, placed a big question mark over his future.

“I made a mistake, and I hold my hands up,” he says. “I done my time. I’m trying to put that in the past. I’m very grateful to Pats for giving me a chance.

“It’s been a long road. I’ve worked hard since I’ve come to Pats. I’ve matured. I’m not messing as much as I used to. I eat properly and that. It’s all down to being full-time. I can’t do what I did years ago at UCD, or I wouldn’t be able to train properly.

UCD? “The social life was grand. [laughs] No more of that now.”

Like many footballers, Ryan has his superstitions — one, will carry added emotional weight on Sunday.

“I kiss my dad’s ring before every game,” he explains. “And I bang a wall, or a door or something like that, twice as hard as I can. I just hit it as hard as I can with the palm of my hand, and that’s it really.”

From Ennis to Inchicore, there will be many more hoping that fate is kind to St Pat’s on Sunday. After all, it’s been a long wait.

“It’s 45 years, the pictures are all black and white,” says Barry Ryan.

“It means more to the older generation that have been following Pats all their lives. We will do the best we can for them, it’s all we can do.”

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