'You remember all the great games but more importantly his warmth'

Eamonn Ryan was a brilliant coach but an even better person
'You remember all the great games but more importantly his warmth'

Cork manager Eamonn Ryan with the Brendan Martin Cup after the 2015 All-Ireland final at Croke Park. Picture: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE

WORDS can’t do justice to the impact Éamonn Ryan had on GAA in Co Cork.

His coaching influence on Cork ladies’ football, not just in terms of trophies, is even harder to quantify.

Yet, the outpouring of sadness on social media, following news of his passing, tells you more about the respect and love the former All-Ireland winning manager built up during a lifetime dedicated to the GAA. He was laid to rest on Saturday with the whole of Cork

Ryan was in charge of the Cork senior footballers between 1980 and 1984, before his trophy-laden spell, from 2004 to 2016, managing the Cork ladies’ footballers. Between 2005 and 2016, the Watergasshill native delivered an astonishing 10 All-Ireland titles, nine National League trophies, and a near-perfect Munster championship run.

He also had success with Na Piarsaigh, Watergrasshill, Beál Áthan Ghaorthaidh, College, and more.

Éamonn Ryan’s influence as a coach can be quantified by the number of trophies won by the county during his two tenures.

Yet, the positive, emotional, and long-lasting effect he had on his players, management teams, coaches, supporters, media, friends, and family is worth more than all those championship victories and cups combined.

Perhaps his squad’s most important achievements were off the pitch. Ryan didn’t just put Cork ladies’ football on the map, he laid the foundations for future generations of young female footballers.

Most importantly, Éamonn Ryan set the wheels in motion for ladies’ football, inside and outside the county bounds, to finally began to earn the most important commodity of all: Respect.

Players such as Bríd Stack, Rena Buckley, Valerie Mulcahy, Briege Corkery, and many more inspired a generation of footballers to build on their unprecedented success and make their own mark on a national stage.

Current Cork Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association PRO, Peter O’Leary, is one of many people who got to know Éamonn Ryan from coaching and being involved with the county’s footballers.

“Éamonn’s combination of coaching and individual player-managing skills brought the best out of every player he came across,” O’Leary told the Echo.

“His training sessions were very straightforward, but the reason Cork’s players were so good is that they carried out his instructions so effectively and professionally. Every one of Éamonn’s sessions were geared to getting the absolute best out of his players.

Eamonn Ryan with his former selectors Noel O'Connor and Frank Honohan and stats man Peter O'Leary. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Eamonn Ryan with his former selectors Noel O'Connor and Frank Honohan and stats man Peter O'Leary. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“His player-management was exceptional. The man was outstanding and so easy to deal with. The few times I ever saw Éamonn get cross were only when he was defending and backing his players, or if he felt his players were being disrespected.

“When it came to managing Cork, it was never about him. It was always about the players. No matter how successful he became, he always made time for people. It was always about you. I was privileged to get the chance to work with him because you knew you were in presence of someone special.

“You remember all the matches we were involved in, but you remember the fun we had, more than anything, his warmth as a person. 

In all his time involved with Cork, Éamonn was way more than just a coach to his players,” O’Leary said.

There will be similar anecdotes and stories of Ryan’s kindness over the coming weeks, because the former inter-county manager touched the lives of so many people. Current Cork senior player Orlagh Farmer added a poignant tweet: ‘A good coach can change a game. A great coach can change a life. 

'A true leader who will be sadly missed. I am extremely grateful for your mentorship and encouragement, both on and off the pitch. Sincere condolences to Éamonn’s family and friends at this sad time. RIP.’

HONOUR

From my own point of view, I was blessed to spend a few hours sitting alongside the great man at a Doheny’s GAA/LGFA dinner dance in Dunmanway a couple of years ago.

Naturally, we talked ladies’ football and little else. That evening, Éamonn Ryan never once mentioned all the trophies he delivered or success he brought to Cork.

Instead, he methodically went through a long list of Cork senior players, past and present, from reading the various interviews I had conducted, and asked me how they were doing.

Were they happy? Where were they working? What job or college course were they at right now?

That was Éamonn Ryan in a nutshell.

Always happy to talk football, but more interested in the person wearing the Cork jersey than what they were doing out on the pitch. A lovely, gentle soul has gone to his eternal reward.
The loss to Éamonn’s family, huge network of friends, and Cork is Heaven’s gain.

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