Shane Ryan “Life got in the way of playing football for the county. For years everything was based around my GAA career.”
Former Dublin dual star discusses family, GAA career, challenges and runs the rule on the hot GAA questions.
By Steven Kelly 08/03/2021
Naomh Mearnog man Shane Ryan believes that “family is key to being a successful player.” The former Dublin dual star and primary school teacher recently sat down with me in the dugout, overlooking the new pitch one facility in Naomh Mearnog. “ Can’t wait to play junior next year” he laughed. His passion for GAA was evident from the get-go. Having played inter-county for 10 years his soft and humble nature struck a chord. Ryan explains firstly how he got involved with the GAA. “My father always brought me, my brother and sister, up to games any minute he got.’’ Ryan pinpoints that his parents and coaches encouraged him to play and be involved. “Nursery school had a big role to play, we were surrounded by hurleys, footballs and I was determined to start playing. It wasn’t until U10s that I could play for a team.’’
Having family steeped in GAA pedigree, it was no wonder Ryan would go onto play at the highest level, in both hurling and football. “ Having had two grandfathers growing up, one being the president of the GAA and the other secretary, I took things for granted. My father played hurling for Tipperary and my mother played Camogie for Dublin, it was normal for me to go watch Dublin play every week in Croke Park. I was in the bubble of the GAA”, he says. The environment dictated the path Ryan would soon follow. His ties with Tipperary were very important to him. There were many idols Ryan looked up to from early on. “I was a big fan of the Tipperary team of the 80s and 90s. Big names like Pat Fox and Jimmy Doyle educated me on playing hurling and I went to many Munster hurling games in Semple Stadium and the Gaelic Grounds and I suppose that helped me develop as a player’’ he explained.
Shane Ryan had a stellar career. He won numerous minor and U21 Leinster titles in both hurling and football with Dublin. He also collected six Leinster championship medals in football and an all-star award in 2008, to go along with a national league title in hurling. “Growing up, one of my fondest memories playing for Naomh Mearnog was playing in the feile competition. I remember travelling to play teams from Antrim and Kilkenny. The parade was in the city centre and you felt a part of something special. It was the first big event I had as a club player.’’
Thinking back to the late 80s and early 90s, he felt his improvements came from playing strong teams at club level, which brought him into the county set-up. “We had a lot of close rivals at the time. St Finians of Swords in hurling and near neighbours St Sylvesters would have been on our radar in football. I used to love playing St Finians in hurling, as I would mark their best player Liam Ryan. From U10-U21 we would have marked each other.’’ Ryan believed that “they brought out the best in each other and it was a friendly rivalry. We later played for Dublin together and became good friends”. On the inter-county scene, there were many players Ryan would have loved to have played with. “Paul Galvin of Kerry. He had everything. He was strong, could score and you couldn’t get the ball off him.’’
Shane Ryan had it all, great speed, athleticism and hard work in his armour. According to one of his former managers Tommy Carr, “You could have played him anywhere and he would cover every blade of grass”. Ryan made his debut for the Dublin Footballers in June 1999 and everything seemed rosy in the garden. However, he explains that his career was not without its tough decisions and hard defeats. He was asked to play for the Dublin hurlers in 2009 by Humphrey Kelleher which proved hard to commit to. “It was around the time my mother had passed away and I didn’t want to have to deal with all the extras of having to juggle both football and hurling’’ he explains. Subsequently, he was part of the Dublin football team that came up against many high-quality teams and unfortunately for Ryan that never yielded an All Ireland medal. It’s something that still hurts him to this day. “The worst defeat I had on that Dublin team was in an All Ireland semi-final against Mayo in 2006. I tried to forget it. I was never so sick after a game in my life. We were seven points up and lost by one.’’Ryan won an All-star in 2008 at Midfield but didn’t see this as being a massive achievement personally. “My dad was delighted with it and I was to an extent, but we lost to Tyrone in 2008, so I would have preferred no all-star but an All Ireland instead”.
Ryan had a brief stint back with the Dublin hurlers in 2011, under the stewardship of Anthony Daly. That lasted two years. He believes “If I hadn’t have given it a go I would have always regretted it.’’ He then retired in 2013. “I stayed working hard, listening to my parents and did my best every day. Not everyone is David Clifford or Diarmuid Connolly, play to your strengths.” Ryan believes that the best advice was given to him by his parents. “If I had a bad training session, was dropped or lost a game, I would go to my parents and they would pick me up.’’
GAA has changed massively since Shane Ryan retired seven years ago, in terms of tactics and the way the game has evolved. “I was always against the GAA turning professional as I didn’t think it was feasible, I was never an advocate for it. If I had played 10 years for Dublin and gotten paid, I don’t think the facilities here in Naomh Mearnog would exist and I wouldn’t have wanted that.” The game has moved on. I think today players are more cautious and thoughtful on the ball. Dublin has a system in place and everyone knows their role. It’s a possession game. Stephen Cluxton has changed the art of goalkeeping and other teams are following a similar approach. In hurling the game has gotten a lot quicker”.
The GAA has had to deal with its fair share of upheaval in 2020 with the stop-start season due to COVID-19. What are his feelings on this? “We have live sport again, there is something nice to follow, as long as players feel safe it can only be a good thing. On the flip side, cases may increase and this wouldn’t be good for us.” Despite being in his early 40s, Shane Ryan still plays junior club hurling and football and his obsession with GAA continues to this day.