Jason Ryan will bring plenty of food for thought to Kildare table

Former Wexford manager had Dublin rattled on more than one occasion – especially the 2011 Leinster final

No one, it seems, is entirely willing or able to talk about Jason Ryan. Not in the tactical sense, anyway, or what actually is his role with Kildare football, alongside manager Kieran McGeeney.

Ryan himself has declined to talk about in any great detail, and understandably so: this is McGeeney’s gig, after all, and now is not the time or place for Ryan to start revealing his secrets, with Sunday’s Leinster semi-final against Dublin the next stop down the line.

What is certain is that Ryan wasn't brought in to carry McGeeney's stopwatch, or indeed sing some songs on the Kildare bus. It's no coincidence either that in his previous role as Wexford manager, Ryan had Dublin rattled on more than one occasion – especially the 2011 Leinster final, which they really should have won, the game only swinging in Dublin's favour after Wexford full-back Graeme Molloy scored an own goal.

Ryan was just 31 when he took over at Wexford, the Waterford man easily youngest manager in the game; in 2008, his first season in charge, he took his team to the lofty heights of the All-Ireland semi-final, where they lost out to eventual champions, Tyrone.


He never repeated such heights, although it wasn’t through lack of effort, and even when he decided to step down last summer, after five seasons, Ryan was always destined for somewhere else.

"I certainly haven't finished with coaching," Ryan said in an interview, with this newspaper, back in December. "I didn't stop with Wexford because I'd had enough or anything like that. I loved it. I was living the dream."

Backroom team
Lo and behold, just a week later, Kildare announced that Ryan would be joining their backroom team. At that stage, the destiny of the Leinster championship was pointing directly at the meeting of Kildare and Dublin in the semi-final, with a clear shot at the title in the final, for whoever emerged.

Dublin have won their last three championship meetings, including the 2009 and 2002 Leinster finals, with Kildare's last win over them coming back in 2000, in the Leinster final replay, when Mick O'Dwyer was still in charge. So, when Dublin manager Jim Gavin briefly surfaced for air ahead of Sunday's game he was, inevitably, landed with the question of Ryan's involvement with Kildare, and he equally inevitably ducked it.

“Well you’d need to ask Kieran McGeeney about that,” said Gavin, a fair enough answer. Yet he was pressed on the matter nonetheless, and with that Gavin didn’t deny that Ryan would likely add an extra dimension to Kildare’s game on Sunday.

“Well Jason Ryan is an excellent coach,” said Gavin, “and he did a very good job with Wexford. Whatever coaching he does with Kildare I’m sure it will have an impact. I’m sure Jason will bring a lot to the table. But I’m sure they will be fit anyway, and very prepared and ready for championship football.”

One person a little more willing and able to talk about Ryan is Wexford's Redmond Barry, who will captain his team into Sunday's other semi-final, against Meath.

Particularly close
Barry was particularly close to Ryan during his five years with Wexford, and reckons that whatever his role with Kildare is, it's neither superficial nor necessarily specific.

“Well I wasn’t really surprised when Jason joined up with Kildare,” says Barry. “Because I know he has to be busy, busy, busy. But the job he had with us he was too busy. He had no time for his young family, whereas now, by the sounds of things, he has a good bit more time.”

If at least part of McGeeney’s thinking process is that Ryan may have a couple of keys to help unlock Dublin’s door, especially in front of goal, then only Sunday will reveal it, although Barry suggests that Ryan never held any great fear of Dublin.

“Even in 2008 we were well in the game at half-time. And it was just one of those second-half performances that you want to forget. Bar that half of football we’ve been competitive with Dublin and I suppose that Kildare think maybe a lot of that was down to Jason.”

In the end it might just be all talk, although former Kildare midfielder Dermot Earley is certain that Ryan has already brought something different.

“Jason has been able to get his Wexford team to match Dublin, was unlucky really, but he has brought an added dimension to Kildare’s play this year. His enthusiasm is unbelievable, his attention to detail and hopefully it can help us,” he said.