DONNACHA RYAN HAS felt the wheel of hero worship turn full circle over his 13 years in the Munster setup.
The imposing lock will leave his native province at the end of the season, wearing the red of Munster in Thomond Park for the final time tomorrow before moving to Racing 92.
In a lengthy in-house interview with the southern province’s website today, the Nenagh native recalled the ‘thrilling’ 35 -34 comeback win over Saracens in 1999 that made him take notice, not only of Munster and their players, but of rugby itself.
“It was captivating, it was cliffhanger stuff watching the game,” said the 33-year-old.
“You see a game like that and you want to play. I had never really watched rugby before or understood the rules or anything but more or less the next day I got stuck in and started playing.
I more or less fell into rugby, I was trying to get big to get onto the Tipp Minor hurling team and basically was told, ‘maybe you should go and play rugby’, because I was a bit skinny.”
Ryan worked hard and learned fast, taking inspiration from an Alan Quinlan talk at Clanwilliam to fuel belief that it was possible to go and be a professional player with Munster.
“I’m fortunate in that I looked up to the older group of players when I came into the team, they’re your heroes,” said Ryan, who helped Munster take their second Heineken Cup title in 2008.
There is a touch of regret in Ryan’s words that he hasn’t added another European triumph in the years since. However, as he heads for the exit door he will look back on a young crop of players who he feels are well capable of changing that.
“Now I’m the older guy and they are like young heroes of mine. You look at them and it is great to be able to see this group of guys come together and create their own history. At the same time, they realise how fortunate they are to be in the position they are in and have a ferocious work ethic.
“Munster haven’t been to a European final in a long, long time and it just shows that even getting to a semi-final was a fantastic achievement for this group of players. It is important for guys to enjoy the accomplishment. And from where we were at the end of last season to where we are now is a fantastic transformation.
It was very frustrating not enjoying as much success in recent years and it wasn’t for the lack of trying. It just goes to show that the previous team set a massive standard.”
He added: “Now that I’ve got older, (the European medal) does mean an awful lot to me because they are so rare to have.
“It has been nine years since we were in a final and it’s very difficult to come by. I played a few games that year in the Heineken Cup and to be part of that day was special.”
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