THE nature of deadlines and scheduling means that we’re behind everyone else in paying tribute to the late Eamonn Ryan, who died recently, but it would be negligent not to mark the passing of such a remarkable man who gave so much to Gaelic games of all levels and codes.
The easiest way to do so is by using his own words.
Ten All-Irelands in 11 years with the Cork ladies tells its own story but — and we promise it’s not a hipster desire underpinning this — our favourite victory in that run was the 2011 quarter-final against Dublin in Birr.
The previous year, Cork’s bid for a sixth straight title had come to ground at the same venue against Tyrone and Dublin had taken the Brendan Martin Cup. When the Jackies led by 3-10 to 2-7 with 16 minutes left, there was a real sense of the balance of power shifting, but Cork reeled off seven straight points to win it at the death.
Ryan was a straight talker and never one for exaggeration and his words after that game summed up the achievement.
“It was an amazing victory,” he said. “We had one like that against Mayo the first year we won the All-Ireland when we got three late points, but today I honestly thought we were gone.
“We used up a fair bit of luck today, but the one thing I’d say in mitigation was that we were six weeks without a game. The pleasing thing was that we outlasted them because all the talk was that they’d outlast us.”
Back in 2015, as the special guest at the Rebel Óg annual awards, he held court on a variety of topics, blending humour with deep insight.
“There’s no one of them that is one percent more obnoxious now than when they came into the panel,” he said.
Behind the funny comment was an ocean of truth, though — few, if any, players who joined the Cork squad had a bad attitude to start with and they certainly don’t develop one once they were within the confines of the panel. There were too many grounded individuals there to allow any egos to develop.
He also made a very valid point in that, while victories can, of course, be celebrated, there’s not necessarily a need to get legless while doing so. If you have four pints instead of 12, you’ll still have plenty of craic and, importantly, be able to remember it all.
Ultimately, he was keen to make the point that drive and determination came from within.
“Nobody forces anybody to join a club,” he said. “When you get there then and you find that you’re good at it, a bit successful at it and you get a bit of profile from it, you enjoy it.
“Everybody is doing it for themselves, but if that happens then there’s a spin-off effect for your team-mates, your family, your friends, and your county. Anyone who says that they’re making sacrifices for the county, I wouldn’t buy that at all.
“We all go because we want to, there’s nobody making us.
If I gave up tomorrow morning, the world would still revolve on its axis, totally unconcerned about whether I was still doing it or not.”
And what does it feel like to win an All-Ireland?
“The feeling at the end is like that of the end of every All-Ireland,” he said.
“It’s total ecstasy for about three minutes and then it gradually gets diluted. From then on, you’re actually trying to recreate it or retrieve it, but you can’t. It’s a bit like life, it just goes on and you can’t get it back.
“I would think that that it’s true alright that the desire to get that feeling back is a big driving force.”
Ultimately, his attitude rubbed off what is an incredibly special group, to the point that Cork ladies’ football was able to survive without him.
“What I’ve realised is that they’re all great people,” he said.
“They mightn’t all be great footballers, but no matter what you asked them, even the most repetitive drills or mundane things like blocking, they were willing to do that even if they’d done it the night before.
“They could see the reason for wanting to do these boring drills at times, they seemed to be very driven people. They’re all very successful people in their own spheres and they make my life very easy.”