In the beginning when Shane Ryan first moved to Ireland in 2015 to pursue his international swimming career there would be days when he’d be shopping in Tesco wondering how much his last €10 would buy him.
Things have improved since then, Ryan this year among 10 Irish swimmers on the international class of funding worth €18,000 a year. Still that doesn’t leave much to live off, the now 28 year-old intent on continuing up to Paris in 2024, for what would be his third Olympics.
On Tuesday, an additional €8 million in funding for sport was announced by the Government as part of Budget 2023, about half that figure directed towards athlete support in preparation for Paris, now just 22 months away, plus the 2024 Paralympics also in Paris.
The additional €8m will also be used to develop a new coaching fund, something Ryan particularly welcomes given the fact so many Irish coaches are still entirely voluntary.
“I think funding for coaches and athletes is so important,” he says. “It’s like a nice peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you’ve got to have them together. It goes hand in hand. It’s an absolute phenomenal thing that they are putting more money into athletes.
“When I first moved over here, funding was always an issue for athletes and coaches, but mostly for the athletes. I had like €50 to my name, I didn’t have anything. I remember really budgeting, I had my €10 to go to Tesco to get chicken breasts, some pasta, some cereal and milk for my meals.
“Having a little bit more money and having that fund for the athletes is superb because if you’re putting more money into it, you’re starting to see the results.
“It’s been an ongoing thing, year-in, year-out, in athletics, swimming, every single sport. You’re starting to see Irish names a lot more and coming back with a lot more medals. At the same time we can go out and actually afford a physio or an extra €10 for petrol, a meal, instead of worrying, to be able to buy a snack. It’s the same thing with the coaches. They’re away a lot from their family, they have to be compensated.”
It’s seven years now since Ryan moved here from his hometown of Haverton, Pennsylvania, his father Thomas hailing from Portarlington; a year later he was eligible to represent Ireland, first at the Rio Olympics, then Tokyo last summer, where he competed in three events, the 100m backstroke, 100m butterfly and the 4x200m freestyle relay.
A 10-time Irish record holder, between short and long course events, in 2018, he won bronze in the 50m backstroke at the World Short Course Championships, before in 2019, he also won European Short Course bronze.
“I’m lucky to have relatively okay rent in Dublin but life in Ireland is getting more expensive. Sport Ireland are raising the bar but also raising their standards. It’s difficult but you have to perform and that’s why we’re here, we’re trying to reach high standards.”
The emergence of Mona McSharry, an Olympic finalist in Tokyo, and Daniel Wiffen, Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, has further raised that standard and profile of Irish swimming. A nagging shoulder injury impinged on Ryan’s chances at the European Championships in Rome last month, still he sees every reason to continue all the way to Paris.
“I’m a big believer in inspiring the younger generations of Irish swimmers because we have a whole lot of pools across Ireland but we only have about five 50m pools in the whole of Ireland. We have two or three in Dublin. two in Northern Ireland and one in Limerick.
“I didn’t think I would be racing at Europeans, because the shoulder was such a big surgery, it usually takes a full year for recovery but at eight months I was competitive and quite fast.
“I still had the speed which is my greatest asset. I was ahead at 25m in the 50m back, I could have won the 50m back if my shoulder was good. That gives me a lot of confidence, I was up with the world record holder to 25m. Just got to take my time, listen to my coach and physio and take it day by day. I’m trying for my third Olympics and I’m very hopeful.”