Old-school style helps Ryan to crack the locks
Donnacha Ryan made his first Six Nations start against Scotland this year. Afterwards he was named man of the match. One thing that is certain is the accolade barely entered his conscious thinking.
If Ryan is now seen as one of the leaders on an Irish team shorn of older, wiser heads, it is because his old school perspective has a resonance that other players can sense. An early lesson in modesty has stood to the secondrow and resides in his head as a salutary tale of pride and fall.
The result has been an ambitious character, who knows the value of caution while Ryan’s aggression about the park and lineout ability often takes him close to the giant bottle of Champagne for stand-out performances, he is a talk-it-down sort of player.
The genesis of that attitude was as a 17-year-old, when he was picked for the Munster Schools and Irish Youth team. That year he landed on his rugby feet and early signals were good. It was, as he now knows, just the beginning. But not the beginning he thought it was.
“My first year of rugby I made the Munster youths and the Irish Youths and went back thinking I was very good,” he says.
“I went into (St) Munchin’s a year later. It’s a very lonely place with lads who think you’re too big for your boots. It was a great lesson for me and I’ll never forget it. It was more of a case of where I thought I was better than I actually was. I’ve no problem saying that.
“At that age and you come from a small town and you’re making the Nenagh Guardian – the dizzy heights – you actually think and people are telling you you’re great and I was only 17, so very gullible. When it comes too thick and fast you start thinking, jeez I could be this good.
“Sport is the best leveller of all especially in rugby if a guy is getting too big for his boots you can do him. It was brilliant. Munchin’s for me was a tough place to go. I got a good Leaving Cert, got a Senior Cup and made some good friends and a great learning experience and I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t had that.”
Perhaps typically Munster his education in the basic virtues of devaluing the self has actually empowered Ryan much more at a personal level than if he strode on to every pitch with a swagger and a grin. A late convert from hurling his stripped down thinking and application on the pitch has warmed him to the terraces. Pass like a centre, run like a winger his thinking has always been to improve. That Declan Kidney has learned to love a little more in the past year.