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Dublin: 4 °C Monday 24 February, 2020

'You can't manage a Westmeath team like you'd manage the Waterford team'

Michael Ryan will be patrolling the sidelines this evening as Westmeath take on Offaly in the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship.

HURLING IS A ‘hobby’ for Westmeath manager Michael Ryan, or at least that’s how he sees it.

Michael Ryan with Aaron Craig Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

His round-trips from his home in Waterford to his hurling duties in the midlands county, consist of roughly 48 hours of driving every week.

Considering that he has held the position since 2014, the cumulative mileage makes for exhausting reading.

During the week, he was in Trim to watch Westmeath’s U21 hurlers score a victory over Meath in the Leinster championship.

He was there to survey the performances of their representatives from their senior panel, while also assessing the talent that is coming through the underage conveyor belt.

But there’s no hardship involved when it comes to his relationship with hurling, and he stresses that he undertakes those journeys “by choice.”

Ryan has enjoyed a fruitful career in management, which spans a period of almost three decades.

In his earlier years, he was a successful manager in Ladies football, delivering several All-Ireland titles with both local club Ballymacarbry, and the Waterford Ladies senior team.

More recently, he was the Waterford hurling manager between 2011 and 2013. In a county where hurling is arguably the dominant sport, Ryan had players to pluck from a plethora of clubs throughout the county.

In Westmeath however, hurling is a comparatively less popular sport, with just 14 clubs in operation.

It’s a different environment for Ryan, but one he’s happy to be in.

“If you take counties like Waterford, if Waterford look for guys to come in to make up numbers for training, they’re would be 50 fellas in like a flash. We just don’t have those numbers in Westmeath.

We have 13 or 14 clubs  and it’s a different kind of challenge, so then you have to approach it differently. You can’t manage a Westmeath team like you’d manage the Waterford team. You have to do things differently.

“You’ve got to make it attractive to play, you’ve got to work with the fellas you have and basically, you have a limited pool of players and all you can do, is do your very best with the management team, to improve those players and make it better, because we just can’t pull people off the shelf.”

Source: Delvin GAA GAA/YouTube

“It’s a process. It takes time and the important thing is that you get the solution to it because it won’t happen overnight and for every few steps you take forward, you might have to take a step back.

“That means that everyone has got to work really hard together and I can’t speak highly enough of the people that are involved in hurling in Westmeath.

“They’ve the same enthusiasm for hurling in Westmeath, as there is in Waterford or Cork or Kilkenny.”

The ongoing efforts of those working at the coalface of Westmeath hurling is starting to come to fruition, and Ryan has spotted a few young people around the county carrying hurls on his travels.

Similarly, the Westmeath U21 hurlers pulled off a shock result last year, when they defeated Kilkenny in the quarter-finals of the Leinster championship.

That was a landmark result for the county and yet, credibility and respect within wider hurling circles, continues to evade them.

This was evidenced in an article which was published in the Offaly Express during the week, under the byline of ‘The Sideline Mouthpiece’.

The piece argued that a traditional hurling county like Offaly should not be losing to Westmeath, despite being overwhelmingly defeated by their neighbours in the Leinster SHC round-robin stages last year.

Both sides meet again in the Leinster quarter-final later today in Cusack Park, Mullingar.

The piece claimed that losing out to Westmeath for a second consecutive year, would be an embarrassment for hurling fans in the Faithful County.

Ryan has been made aware of the article, but is refusing to dwell on the content.

“I suppose that’s some sort of traditional bias,” he added.

“I don’t think it (the article) will have any big bearing on the game. It’s not something that would be said by the genuine hurling people of Offaly either.

“That’s somebody going on the solo run or maybe looking for a bit of publicity. Sure look, we’ll play the game and it’s ok.

“Kevin Ryan (Offaly hurling manager) won’t thank that guy speaking like that. I suppose, we won’t dwell too much on it.”

Westmeath, along with Laois, emerged from the Leinster SHC round-robin series to book their respective places into this weekend’s spread of Leinster senior hurling quarter-finals.

While Westmeath take on Offaly, Laois have been paired with Wexford in the other quarter-final fixture tomorrow afternoon.

The progression of these sides however, came at the expense of the other round-robin teams Kerry and Meath, who have no more championship outings to prepare for until 2018.

Following Westmeath’s victory over Meath in the last round of that series, Ryan made some critical comments about the championship structure, offsetting a strong reaction, which mainly supported his views.

Source: Off The Ball/SoundCloud

Speaking to Oisin Langan of Newstalk Sport, he said that the current system is “not promoting hurling.”

Two weeks on from first making those statements, he maintains that the issue still needs to be addressed.

“Everybody’s got to sit down about this. Croke Park, the Provincial council, the County board.

“Everybody’s got to sit down and put a plan in place because I can see a situation in the future where some counties are going to be in trouble and the club versus county situation has got to be looked at.

“Even more so, we played U21 on Wednesday night and we had some guys involved. A few days later, they’re out playing senior. Again, they line out next Wednesday night and when you add into the mix that some of those lads have final exams — it just doesn’t make sense.”

I don’t know who comes up with the Masterplan but it’s got to be looked at. Maybe the people that do, just aren’t fully aware of the situation and don’t maybe fully realise it. But it’s got to be looked at. At the end of the day, you’re asking players to do the impossible.

“I don’t have the answer and there is no simple solution to it but there’s got to be a better solution to the one that’s in place.”

Michael Donoghue and Michael Ryan shake hands after the game Michael Ryan congratulates Micheal Donoghue following their defeat to Galway in the Leinster SHC last year. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

Westmeath made it to this stage of the Leinster hurling championship last year, where they were out muscled by Galway.

They were 17 points off the pace in that encounter, and they were later eliminated from the qualifiers following a defeat to Limerick.

Ryan knows that the players will take important lessons from those games, as they look to surpass their feats of 2016 against Offaly today [Throw-in, 7pm].

“What struck me about Galway last year was the seer physique and size. They were absolutely huge massive men.

“We all knew Galway would be good hurlers but they’re an absolutely huge team and they were very comfortable winners against us. With Limerick, there were vital stages of the game. We had a penalty and we missed it.

“We’ll take a few lessons from last year, and we know now, we’ve got to work even harder and harder.

“We’ve got to improve our hurling, we’ve got to get every facet of our game right. We’ve got to battle as we’ve never battled before.

“That’s all you can do, you can only be as good as you can be.”

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