Strongest link in chain is no longer with us, a tribute to Eamonn Ryan

Rena Buckley and Mary O'Connor hail the influence of legendary coach
Strongest link in chain is no longer with us, a tribute to Eamonn Ryan

Cork manager Eamonn Ryan and his players celebrate after defeating Dublin at Croke Park in 2014. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

He had a brilliant mind and could really craft a culture in a team that was unique to him. We were very very lucky and fortunate to have him managing us as a team.

CORK ladies football is in mourning at the passing of former All-Ireland winning coach Eamonn Ryan.

The Cork LGFA announced on Thursday that Ryan “passed on to his eternal rest this afternoon after an illness bravely fought.”

Eamonn’s influence on ladies football in Cork turned a side that was threatening to be great into one that was simply sublime as he led them to 10 All-Ireland titles in 11 years.

Prior to his involvement with Cork, they hadn’t won a Munster senior championship title, not to mind an All-Ireland title.

He took over as coach in 2004 and when he left 11 years later Cork has 10 All-Ireland titles to their name, nine national league titles and 10 Munster championship titles. And in typical Eamonn fashion, he was always fast to pay tribute to others rather than himself.

During his time they lost just two games in the All-Ireland series — the 2004 quarter-final to Mayo and the 2010 quarter-final to Tyrone.

His coaching style led them to be one of the most successful teams of all time, but there was no room for egos in the squad.

Eamonn would often say that it “was a choice, not a sacrifice” to be part of the Cork squad and the door was always open for players to come or go.

He raised the bar in ladies football over those 11 years, but he still had a great sense of humour and when asked how they were so successful he often replied with a laugh that it was down to their “small heads and small arses.”

He turned Cork into a team all feared but he and the squad were always gracious in victory and never knocked their opponents, it simply wasn’t his way.

As a squad, they bought into his ways and one of them remarked years later that had he given them a drill and disappeared for a half hour they would still be doing it when he came back. Such was their faith in him and him in them.

Few who were there, or saw on TV, will ever forget some of their great clashes with Dublin and how the spirit and belief he had instilled in the squad saw them snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Dublin LGFA paid tribute to their great rival saying: “All in Dublin LGFA are sorry to learn of the passing of former Cork coach, Eamonn Ryan.

“An inspirational figure who did so much to develop our sport. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and wide circle of GAA friends. Rest well Eamonn.”

His mantra was built around sayings like: “Appreciate what you have before time teaches you to appreciate what you had,” and “Attitude before aptitude will get you to altitude.”

Tributes were paid to him by many and amongst them was Rena Buckley, one of the players who led Cork to All-Ireland glory during his time.

He was an unbelievable person and we are so grateful that we got the chance to share so much of our lives with him. 

"He left a hugely positive mark on all of us and we are hugely grateful for that. Our thoughts are with his family at this tough time.

“He had a huge personality and we had a very close group and Eamonn was central to that group. Obviously, he was central to the football side of it but he has a charisma and aura and we all wanted to spend time with him as well because of that positivity, because of the humour he had. That was key to the desire to be around him and his group."

Former Cork dual star and current CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport, Mary O’Connor also paid tribute to Eamonn.

“It’s still very raw and we are trying to take it in at this stage but I wouldn’t be the only one on that team that would think that Eamonn treated us first as people.

“He had a brilliant mind and could really craft a culture in a team that was unique to him. We were very very lucky and fortunate to have him managing us as a team.

“He instilled live-long values in us, but also life-long friendships and loyalty among that group of players. That started down in Liscarroll on a cold January-February night when we had our first training session with him. We had one floodlight and it was dark and dreary but it was a new beginning and we didn’t know what lay before us.

“But I think Eamonn just went about his business, he’s a leader. It’s really difficult to try and put into words what he meant to us. We were coming up to an All-Ireland final and I remember him talking to us about a poem about flying geese.

It’s a famous poem but it was the way he introduced it, what it brings across is how the geese supported each other by flying in a V-shape formation, and when the times are tough they take turns in leading at the front.

“They cheer each other on and are loyal to their purpose and I think when you look at the Cork team that is what we were. We were very loyal as a group, we stuck to our purpose which was our game-plan, and that on different days there would be different leaders to achieve our ultimate aim.

“That geese poem always stuck with me as something only Eamonn could bring to life in that way. The sad thing now is that when that group meets up again that the strongest link in the chain won’t be there.

“I hope in these difficult days around Covid when people won’t be able to come out and pay their respects to Eamonn that his family realise the high esteem he is held in by lots and lots of people and not just us a squad."

Also paying tribute to Eamonn was former Cork County Board chairperson Tracey Kennedy who said that it was “incredibly” sad news.

“Eamonn gave so, so much to the GAA and LGFA over a lifetime and was unbelievably wise and generous with his wisdom. He will be very sadly missed. Condolences to all who mourn him.”

Eamonn Ryan and Valerie Mulcahy. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Eamonn Ryan and Valerie Mulcahy. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

LGFA President Marie Hickey also has paid tribute to Eamonn saying: “Eamonn Ryan was a larger than life character who guided Cork to unprecedented success during his spell in charge.

“Eamonn’s coaching genius was very much to the fore as Cork won five successive TG4 All-Ireland Senior titles from 2005-2009, and another five-in-a-row from 2011-2015, while he was in charge.

“During Eamonn’s tenure, Cork were also crowned Division 1 National League champions on nine occasions.

“Eamonn had a unique bond with the players he worked alongside, who all speak of his influence in glowing terms.

“Many of us in the LGFA also had the opportunity to get to know Eamonn on a personal level over the course of many years.

“He joined us on TG4 All Star tours abroad and he was such a personable character, and engaging company.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of Eamonn’s passing and he leaves behind an incredible legacy.

“On behalf of the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, I wish to pass on our sincere condolences to Eamonn’s family and friends at this very sad time.”

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam díli

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