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'Everything Michael has done for the club is why we're where we're at' - 40 in-a-row and out

Michael Ryan has stepped down as Ballymacarbry ladies football manager.

Michael Ryan

NEWS FILTERED THROUGH over the long weekend that legendary manager Michael Ryan had stepped down from the Ballymacarbry ladies football helm.

It was a case of 40-in-a-row and out — the Waterford powerhouse having secured a simply remarkable 40th consecutive senior county title last November.

One of the most successful managers in the game, Ryan has been a cornerstone of Ballymac ladies football since first taking charge back in 1975. Across several spells, he led the team to 10 All-Irelands, 14 Munster titles and countless county championships.

His most recent stint saw him come in as a selector in 2018, before taking the managerial reins once again for the past two seasons.

“I’ve been back four years and I felt that they needed a new voice,” the former Waterford and Westmeath hurling manager told WLR’s Lár Na Pairce show. “I probably needed to step away from it myself, there’s a certain amount of time you can give with players.”

Ryan, who will remain in charge of The Nire footballers and the Fourmilewater hurlers in 2022, while also serving as a selector with the Waterford U20 hurlers under Gary O’Keeffe, hailed “a fantastic bunch of players” as he bid farewell, with Mike Guiry taking over as manager and John Phelan also playing a key role.

“I think it’s for the betterment of everybody. They probably needed a new voice and I needed to step back from it as well. It’s a win-win all round.”

The tributes poured in from near and far, and they’re still coming.

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***

Two of Ballymac’s stars, Lauren Fitzpatrick and Karen McGrath, are more than happy to take a trip down memory lane. The stories and anecdotes come flooding back before the next chapter begins.

Neither can say enough good things about the man, who has managed countless teams in each code and every level across the length and breadth of the country.

“Anyone that’s in ladies football circles knows how much of a well-respected figure Michael is, both in the club and on the national scene,” McGrath, the current Waterford captain, begins.

“That kind of comes from looking at his roll of honour in sport. He’s been involved with Waterford and Ballymac ladies over the years. It’s hard not to admire him.

“When you look back, he was manager at Waterford when they won the five All-Irelands back in the ’90s and manager of the club when we won our 10 All-Irelands back in the late ’80s and ’90s, and all the Munster titles that came with that.

“Look, he’s been a huge part of the club and why we’re one of the most successful clubs in the country at the minute.”

“As a player when you’re under him, you can see that he’s so passionate about football, and you can feel that when you’re down training,” she continues. “The way he speaks and the way he drives you on and pushes you on to be better.

“He’s the type of person that when he talks, everyone stops and listens, and you really want to take his advice on board and to try and implement what he says.

“You really believe that what he’s telling you is going to make you a better player. He’s brilliant.

“He’s a massive credit to the club and while he’s after stepping away as manager and won’t be with us in the dressing room, I’ve no doubt that he’s still going to be at every game that we play and that we’re going to hear his words of encouragement and support coming from the stands because that’s just the type of person he is. He lives and breathes the GAA.”

Michelle Ryan 5 Ryan with his daughter, Michelle, after Waterford won the Division 2 league title in 2019. Source: SPORTSFILE.

That’s how Fitzpatrick, Ballymac’s 2021 captain and Tipperary goalkeeper, will always think of Ryan: a permanent fixture around the club, playing a pivotal role across the board going back years.

As she reminisces, she remembers when she started out playing, Ryan was “helping out”, whether that be overseeing drills, offering bits and pieces of advice, or simply collecting cones.

“He was a figure you’d stop and you’d listen to,” she says, echoing her team-mates’ words. “I remember being young in training, he was this voice and you’d kind of be in awe of it really. As a team even, everyone just listened to everything he said, [hung] on every word.

“Trainings were fantastic, it was never anything too hard or too complicated. Drills were simple, they were easy drills, done fast and done without mistakes. That’s what he emphasised with us: if we can do it fast, without mistakes and do the simple things right, that was the key.

“I just remember during those drills – and no disrespect to any other management or anything – you’d just go full tilt because you wanted to impress him, you knew that he was watching. Everyone was in awe of him.”

***

McGrath remembers being in awe from a young age, too.

Her older sister, Michelle, played under Ryan at club and county level, and she recalls him as a mainstay when she went along to the matches with her parents.

“You’d always associate Michael with Ballymacarbry ladies football club and Waterford ladies football. Like I said, he’s so passionate. He demands high standards and demands that you give it all to the game. He wants you to do the best that you can, for yourself and the club.

“It just comes from his love of the game and he just wants you to love it as much as he does and to be as good as you can be. As a club, we look back a lot on our history and the tradition of football in the club and Michael had such a massive part to play in that. When you think of one, you think of the other: it’s Ballymacarbry ladies football and it’s Michael Ryan.”

Move the clock forward, and McGrath recalls Ryan as a spectator in the crowd at Waterford games she played in at Fraher Field and WIT. “He’s genuinely the one voice you can always hear shouting advice from the sidelines,” she laughs.

“He wouldn’t have even been involved in the team set-up there but he was always there, he just had that distinct voice and was always shouting in really good directions.

“I’d say if Michael shouted in at me to take off my football boots in the middle of the game, I’d probably do it because I’m like, ‘Okay, Michael knows, this is going to make me play better somehow!’ You know that kind of way.

“You take everything he says for Gospel and look, it’s just the type of person that he is. He’s just so knowledgeable about the game.”

waterford-ladies-football-training-2491998 Ryan and Brigid Grant.at Waterford ladies football training in 1998. Source: Keith Heneghan/INPHO

No matter his role or title, nothing changed. Whether manager, coach, selector or spectator; he always gives 110%.

Crucially, he also treats one and all the same – girls and boys, men and women, young and old, insiders and outsiders. The father of three top players through the years in Michelle, Louise and Sinéad, Ryan left family life off the field too.

“He’s just been brilliant, as a manager to younger players and the older players,” Fitzpatrick beams. “He’s a very approachable man.

“If there’s anything you’d ever want to improve in your game, he’d be the first person you’d go to speak to because he’d tell you exactly what to do and what you needed to do. He’s great craic as well to have around.” 

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“He places a big emphasis on having fun and having a bit of craic as well,” McGrath nods.

“While he can be quite serious and will really drive you to be successful, he has that really good balance of bringing everyone together and having a bit of a laugh and the craic at training as well, which is so important.”

***

Fitzpatrick perhaps puts it best when she labels Ryan’s departure “bittersweet” for the entire team. Their experiences with him on and off the field have been nothing but positive, and that shows in the heartfelt words uttered through this article.

“He will be sorely missed around the place, just his presence alone and obviously his football brain is great as well. He probably has given everything he can to us and fair play to him for acknowledging that. 

“Probably at the time when he had spoken to us and voiced his opinion on his way forward, maybe we didn’t see it that way. But to be fair to him, maybe he’s right. After a long time to be involved with a team, maybe a fresh voice is needed.

“That bit of continuity is there with with Mike and John, they were a part of Michael’s backroom team last year so it is nice to have that bit of normality there as well, and hopefully this new voice will drive us on and bring us that little step further.

bmac Ballymacarbry players, past and present, celebrating their 40th county final title. Source: Ballymacarbry LGFA.

“But I do think that everything Michael has done for the club is why we’re where we’re at. That can’t be forgotten as well. He has been fantastic to the football club as a whole, as far back as when it began. We owe him a lot and we’re forever grateful for that. I hope that we can go on and do him proud as a supporter now.”

Change is good at times, and McGrath too accepts that, impressed with the “whole new dynamic” Phelan, in particular, has brought into the group.

But Ryan’s influence will never be forgotten.

“Look, I’m sure it was a very difficult decision for Michael to step away from it,” she concludes.

“It’s probably hard for him to maybe take that step back. But look, he’s involved with men’s teams and all that kind of stuff, training The Nire, the men’s club at home as well, I’d say he was just gone every evening of the year last year between everything.

“Look, he owes the club absolutely nothing and everyone in the club massively respects his decision. And sure look, if he was ever to change his mind again, we’ll welcome him back with open arms!

“But we’re left in very capable hands with Mike and John, they were there with Michael last year and they know us inside out as well at this stage. So hopefully now we can kick on with the two lads this year.”

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