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'The level of expectation they have of themselves is massive' - the challenge of coaching star players

Former Wexford and Kildare manager Jason Ryan is Shane Keegan’s latest guest on How To Win At Dominoes.

Jason Ryan speaks to Mattie Forde during a Wexford training session in 2008.
Jason Ryan speaks to Mattie Forde during a Wexford training session in 2008.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

SHANE KEEGAN HAS a fascinating chat with Jason Ryan about the challenges of managing a generational talent on the latest instalment of How To Win At Dominoes, The42′s coaching podcast.

While Ryan is best known as a former inter-county football manager with Wexford and Kildare, he has also coached at a high level in both hurling and soccer.

During his time with Wexford, Ryan managed the immensely gifted forward Mattie Forde.

Coaching star players brings its own unique challenges, as Ryan explains.

“Some days I did quite well and other days didn’t do very well at all,” he reflects.

“That’s part of it. It’s the realisation that you’re not going to get it right all the time. There was times I got it wrong for him and there was times I got it wrong for the other players. Sometimes I put my hand up and say it was a bad call there.

“There can be times where you put the person on a pedestal but then there’s other times where people will absolutely dog the star for all the other players to see. ‘Yeah, just because he’s an All-Star we’re not going to leave him get too big for himself.’

“Mattie, like any of us, had certain attributes that were just amazing and other attributes that could be better. The same as any human being. His willingness to train, attend training, be punctual and be practicing beforehand was just unbelievable.

“His understanding of the game and the clarity in which he saw things happen in a game was just phenomenal and they’re some things that just absolutely stand out.

“Everybody is human, everybody has feelings and emotions. It’s taking that into account.

“I definitely would have struggled with the better players in any team I’ve worked with in challenging them enough to improve and get better. That’s something that’s an ongoing challenge I have with any team. Am I spending too much time with the players middle down and at times I do and need to spend time with the most talented ones?

“If a player is consistently scoring 0-7 in a game, what can we do to get him up to 1-8 or 0-9? If I was ever to go back and think, ‘How much did I contribute to making Mattie any better?’ Don’t know. Maybe nothing at all. It’s challenging them in the right way.

“Those really talented guys, they have it really it tough at times in that the level of expectation they have of themselves is massive. Sometimes they expect more out of themselves than anybody else might expect out of them. They feel they’re carrying the team: ‘I didn’t perform great today, we lost. It’s definitely my fault’. It can be quite challenging for them.”

Ryan was a surprise appointment as manager of the Wexford senior footballers at the age of 31, having lined out against the county for Waterford months earlier.

“I was at a crossroads, I’d just gotten married. I was struggling to really make an impact with Waterford. Was I getting enough game time? And then when I was getting game time, was I any good? I was at the stage thinking am I really good enough for this?

“So when the opportunity came with Wexford, the biggest decision was – will I miss playing? Sure, was I ever that good anyway?”

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Without any managerial experience at that level and on the back of a less than stellar playing career, it proved to be a major success.

During his first year in charge, Ryan led the Model County to the Division 3 league title. They reached their first Leinster final in over 50 years and subsequently made the All-Ireland semi-final for the first time since 1945.

In 2011 they lost to eventual All-Ireland champions Dublin by a goal in the Leinster final.

“One of my drivers is a fear of failure. This thing of how adequate am I? How good am I? How disappointed will I make the players? Will I listen to what’s going on?

“So I had all this stuff going on in my head. I’m a big believer in first impressions and a big believer in the importance of bringing people with you. So if you’re first, second or third impression at the start of your journey isn’t positive, then you’re doomed for failure.

“I was too scared to meet them all in one go so I met the players one at a time. I didn’t go after eating the whole elephant, I just went piece by piece.” 

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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