WHILE it wasn’t exactly a case of now or never when it came to the Cork senior hurling manager’s job, Pat Ryan felt that it was too much of an opportunity to allow to pass.
Succeeding Kieran Kingston and taking on the role for the next three years, the Sarsfields man is ready to step up after leading the county to the 2020 and 2021 All-Ireland U20 titles.
“First of all, I was surprised that Kieran went, I thought he’d stay on for another year,” he says.
“When Kieran said to me that he’d be stepping down, it got me thinking about whether I’d like to do it. He wanted to make sure that he wasn’t leaving it in a bad position and, from my point of view, I’m 46 now so another three years down the line I’d be nearly 50 – with no guarantee of getting the jobs then – so it was a case of taking the chance.
“My wife Tricia and my kids have been totally supportive. All my family, my mother and father and brothers, we’d be a hurling family, so I think that was the easiest part of it, to be honest.
“I work in Pfizer in Ringaksiddy and they’ve been very good to me, even during Covid, my bosses and colleagues have been very supportive.
“I think they all realise how much Cork hurling means to everybody. I’m getting great support from every and I’ll continue to get that.”
However, management was something that happened to Ryan rather than being what he regarded as his destiny.
“Not really, no,” he says. “It wasn’t that I necessarily retired from hurling but the lads asked me to get involved in 2012 with Sars.
“I had played in 2011 but my brother Ray was still playing and he made the point, ‘You can probably contribute more as a manager and coach than you can playing.’
“Midfield was where I was playing and it had got very competitive with Daniel Kearney, Eoin Quigley, Daniel Roche, William Kearney, Tadhg Óg Murphy – that was a very high standard of player I was up against and I wasn’t going to be starting.
“If you feel that you can help the team in one way, that’s what you do. I was gone in 2013 and played another bit of [junior] hurling and then came back in 2014. At the time, it was the best way I could help Sars.
“The one thing was that I knew the way I wanted to play the game and the way I wanted to treat people. That’s still the same and it’s what I try to do. I won’t say it’s rocket-science or anything like that, but I think that treating people like adults and treating people from 1-36 the exact same is important.
“Whenever I took over a team, my job was always to make every fella better. That’s what’s in my mind as a coach – if I can’t make every player a better hurler at the end of the year after my coaching, then I haven’t done a good job, whether you win, lose or draw.
“Obviously, winning is the most important thing but, if you can sit down afterwards and say, ‘I got every fella better,’ that’s a great win, I think, and that’s where I’d focus my management as well.”
Ryan admits that there is a part of him that would prefer to just be able to concentrate on coaching, but he is approaching the new role with his eyes open. He certainly knows that it will be more challenging than what he has faced either with Sars or the Cork U20s.
“Managing the U20 team is much easier than managing a senior club team!” he laughs.
“I won’t say I found it easy, given Covid and everything, but you had very good players, loads of talent, great fellas with me and strong support from the board, we didn’t want for anything.
“You’re left alone – I won’t say there’s no pressure but there aren’t as many eyes on you, whereas if you’re involved with Sars or Midleton or any big hurling club, there is a lot of focus if things don’t go well. I think a lot of people don’t have an appreciation of what it takes to be a senior club manager as there are a lot of things going on.
“I’m under no illusions that senior inter-county compared to U20 is hugely different. You’ve a way more backroom staff and people to deal with, you’ve media and sponsors.
“There’s a huge focus on Cork hurling, it’s hugely popular and, everywhere you go, you’ve fellas asking you questions and that’s a part of it that I’ll just have to get used to. It’s not something that I’d be overly comfortable with but it’s part of the gig and you just have to get on with it.”
Of course, the large elephant in the room has a banner that says, ‘Cork haven’t won an All-Ireland since 2005’. Ryan knows that that will loom, but can’t let it dominate.
“First of all, from a player point of view, if you’re going to measure your career in winning All-Irelands it can be a very disappointing career,” he says.
“We’ve lads on the panel now playing for three, four, five years, all the way up to Patrick [Horgan], who’s been there for 13 or 14 years – does that mean that he hasn’t had a brilliant career? Of course it doesn’t.
“It’s not something we’ve been used to – there are lots of kids alive that have never seen Cork win an All-Ireland and the reality is that we’ll be judged on whether we can deliver an All-Ireland in the next couple of years for Cork.”
If that drought is to end, Ryan is open-minded as to who the players ending it will be.
“It is a blank canvas,” he says.
“There were 37 players on the 2022 panel and obviously all of those 37 won’t go on the same journey with us.
“There were a lot of those players that Kieran brought in that would have been involved with me who haven’t had much game-time or came in late and we have to assess them – we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
“We need to see who has come in and if they need more game-time to prove they’re up to that level or if there are fellas who have had game-time who we don’t feel are up to the level.
“We’re not going to be able to get fellas fit in November and December for starting in January. Fellas need to be coming back fit and ready to train. Inter-county matches are of such a high speed that you have to be ready straightaway when you come into a panel.
“There’s not time to be babysitting fellas.”