'I'm more of a realist now' - Ryan returns to lead Ireland with his actions

The 33-year-old was left out last weekend in Edinburgh but is back for the Italy clash.

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT Donnacha Ryan that makes him ideal for dealing with adversity.

This is a man who spent more than 11 months out of the game with what had initially seemed like a minor foot injury. Ryan recalls being asked, ‘How are you enjoying retirement?’ by more than one person during his lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Donnacha Ryan Ryan is back in the Ireland team this weekend. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

He never wrote himself off and returned in March 2015 hungrier than ever.

Back in 2013 as the Declan Kidney era was winding down, Ireland had a miserable Six Nations campaign, winning just once. Paul O’Connell was missing but Ryan stepped up and ferociously fought a losing battle, perhaps Ireland’s best player in the tournament.

Even Ryan’s approach to dismantling opposition mauls is a microcosm of his steely determination and unwillingness to roll over.

How Ireland could have used him on the pitch at Murrayfield last weekend as Scotland bossed the physical exchanges and out-worked Joe Schmidt’s team in the opening half. How valuable his lineout and maul skills would have been on a bad day in those areas.

Instead, Ryan was in his suit in the stand, freshly showered after acting as 24th man in the warm up. With no injuries to Devin Toner, Iain Henderson and Ultan Dillane – all selected ahead of him – Ryan was surplus to requirements.

When Ryan’s name was absent from the Ireland match day 23 last week, Schmidt pointed to a medial ligament injury the previous week as one of the reasons for the lock’s omission, but his presence as 24th man in Murrayfield showed he was fit to play.

“It was just the way it is,” says Ryan. “Joe probably felt that with the way it was going, he probably felt I could offer the best cover as 24th man. That’s what I was asked to do.”

Did he feel fit enough to start?

“I suppose we’ll never know now. It doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, from my point of view this week, just get on with it. I’m in great shape, so luckily I got the nod this week. Hopefully, I can put in a good performance.”

It’s typical Ryan. He’s not going to even hint at bitching about being left out, but you sense that he will carry a bit of a chip onto his shoulder at Stadio Olimpico tomorrow against Italy, now that he has been restored to Ireland’s starting team.

Donnacha Ryan Ryan should help Ireland's lineout hit top stride again. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

But the 33-year-old points out that he has been in this position before, and says he didn’t get too worked up about being left out against Scotland.

“I’m more of a realist now. When you’ve been dropped so many times at this stage you’re not really… I am disappointed but you’re not as sour or, you know, you can be miserable about it, miserable around your family or you can be, ‘What’s the next positive thing I can do?’

“No one wants to hang around with someone who’s feeling sorry for themselves. My point of view is to keep a positive outlook, keep training and keep getting better.

“I know from the other end, you’ve got to be ready to get in there. At the end of the day, if you’re relying on emotions week-to-week, you wouldn’t be in a healthy state of mind.

“You realise – never get too high, never get too low. When you are brought in, you can’t be going around bull-headed on the pitch. You still have a professional level of processes that you have to do when you hit the pitch, not let the emotional side of things override that.”

Ryan points out that he did his best to have a positive influence for Ireland last weekend too, even if he wasn’t on the pitch. He was working with forwards coach Simon Easterby to ensure lineout caller Devin Toner was being fed accurate information.

“Looking on from the sideline, you’re obviously itching to get out there playing but to be honest, I’m up there trying to give as much analysis and information to Simon at half time to help Dev.

“That’s the way we operate as a team. Even if one guy isn’t in there, there is no point feeling sorry for yourself. You’re asking yourself, ‘How can I positively contribute to making life easier for the lads?” Because at the end of the day, we want us to win.”

With Ryan back in the team, many will be confident of Ireland securing that win in Rome in a convincing fashion.

Munster’s Donnacha Ryan Ryan is playing some of his best rugby ever. Inpho / Billy Stickland Inpho / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

Whatever he says himself, the Tipp man is a leader in this squad.

“I would probably be more action-based. I’d help as many of the young lads as much as possible. I get a good buzz out of it even if I’m not involved. The thing that picks me up is trying to help lads along with anything I might see.

“I focus on what I can control, I wouldn’t be going in shooting my mouth off. There are fantastic leaders there. I would prefer it to be more action-based leadership than anything else. If anything practical needs to be said, I will say it.”

Head down and on with the job.

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