USA back row Paddy Ryan.
Irish Abroad

'He texted from America at 5 in the morning. I couldn't get back to sleep'

24-year-old Kildare man Paddy Ryan is now a three-times-capped USA international.

DUST OFF YOUR LinkedIn profile. It turns out you can kick-start an international rugby career on the job-focused social network.

Well, you’ll also need talent and Kildare man Paddy Ryan has plenty of that, as he showed in his first three caps for the USA over the past three weekends.

The 24-year-old impressed at openside flanker against Romania, Portugal, and Georgia after a whirlwind few months led to him making his Test debut.

Ryan is a former Leinster underage back row who joined Northampton when he didn’t get a full academy contract in Ireland. He has since played with the Cornish Pirates and Ampthill in English rugby’s second tier and made his first appearance for ambitious English Championship side Coventry last night. Now he’s a US international and it all started with a message on LinkedIn.

Back in May, Ryan spotted that Nick Easter, the former England player, was joining the Eagles’ coaching staff as they began their rebuild after missing out on 2023 World Cup qualification.

“I thought to myself that he’s English, I’m in England, he’s not too far away, I’ll send him a message,” says Ryan.

“You want to play at the highest level you can and I thought, ‘You just never know what will happen.’”

Ryan’s mother, Cathy, was born in Boston and was there until her family moved back to Ireland when she was 13. Paddy’s uncle still lives in New York and he travelled over for summer visits throughout his teens, so the US connections are strong.

Ryan always knew he was US-qualified and he’d seen other Irish players making the step, so he took his chance with Easter. They exchanged a few messages, Ryan sent him some footage, but that seemed to be that.

It went cold for a few weeks but then Ryan woke randomly one night and reached for his phone to check the time. It was 5am and he would have rolled over to sleep again, but he noticed a WhatsApp message from an unknown number. He couldn’t resist checking.

“It said, ‘Hi, I’m Scott Lawrence, I’m the USA head coach, would you be interested in a chat?’” says Ryan.

“He texted from America obviously so it came in at 5 o’clock in the morning and I was wondering if it was a joke. I couldn’t get back to sleep, I was wrecked for the day.”

Screenshot 2023-08-26 at 02.56.50 Ryan scored on debut against Romania.

They jumped on a Zoom call the following night and Lawrence laid out the Eagles’ plans. The US have been named as hosts for the 2031 World Cup and while it’s still a long way off, they’re keen to get cracking with building towards that. Lawrence asked Ryan if he was interested in being in the mix for their upcoming summer tour in Europe. A few days later, another call from Lawrence to confirm Ryan was in the squad.

“It came from nowhere really,” says Ryan. “I still couldn’t believe it until I actually got out there to the camp four weeks later. It was a long time, you just want to get in there. You don’t know it’s real until you’re in there.”

The four weeks ticked by but there was still an ordeal for Ryan in actually getting to USA’s training camp in Charlotte, North Carolina. He met Easter at Heathrow Airport and they flew out to New York, where their connecting flight to Charlotte was cancelled.

That meant a night in a New York hotel, a steak dinner, a chance to get to know Easter better. The following morning, their next flight was also cancelled. So they hopped on a train to Washington and whiled away a day there looking around the city. Next, they flew to Raleigh but their flight onward to Charlotte was delayed for four hours, so they cut their losses, rented a car, and made it to camp hours before the training started.

“We had a bit of craic along the way and it certainly broke the ice. You’ll never forget that,” says Ryan with a laugh.

He has had a brilliant first campaign with the US, establishing himself as an important cog in the team as the Eagles played three World Cup teams, beating Romania before losing to Portugal and Georgia.

Ryan, who roomed with Aran Islands native Paul Mullen, scored a try on debut against the Romanians as he stepped into Test rugby with apparent comfort.

“I didn’t know what to expect going into that match against Romania, what standard it would be,” he says. “But I play in the Championship and there’s lots of big men running around in the Championship.” 

When Ryan made the decision to leave Ireland as an 18-year-old, he might not have imagined that he’d end up playing international rugby in Tbilisi. In fairness, he was always a good athlete and appeared on Ireland’s Fittest Family with his mother, his dad, Paul, and his sister, Aoife. 

Ryan came through the ranks at Newbridge College and featured for the Leinster U17s, U18s and U19s, but there was no academy place for him after school.

Caelan Doris was part of the same age-grade back rows so competition was fierce. Ryan was set to join Ulster’s sub-academy and did two days training there but then an offer from Northampton popped up. The connection was Newbridge coach Johne Murphy, who had contacts in England from his playing days. For Ryan, it was a no-brainer.

pr Ryan scores against Romania.

“You’re not guaranteed anything with sub-academy, you’re not getting paid, you’ve got no contract, they can cut you at any time,” he says.

“So I had to take the chance, go to Northampton and see what happened. I was 18 going over and to be honest, I didn’t really think about it too much. I had to give it a go, it’s your dream to play professional rugby.”

In his first year with Saints, the 2017/18 season. Ryan helped them to the Premiership A League, scoring a try in the final against Exeter. He also spent time out on loan down the divisions with National League sides Leicester Lions and Coventry.

He was set for a big second season when injury disaster struck. A seemingly innocuous trackback tackle while on loan at Bedford left him with a massive knee injury. ACL, MCL, two meniscus, microfracture, and a big dose of unfortunate timing.

Ryan was injured in February 2019, just when contracting was going on, and what had seemed a likely extension with Northampton was no longer there. 

“They said they’d see when I came back, but they supported me with the surgery, all the rehab which I did in Northampton. The RPA [Rugby Players Association] gave me a grant for the rest of the length it would take me to get back so I wasn’t out of pocket.”

When he was fit again, Ryan moved to Cornish Pirates and was picking up momentum again just when Covid hit.  Still, he loved living in Penzance down on England’s south-west tip.

Ryan moved on to Ampthill in 2021, which meant going part-time as the club isn’t one of the Championship’s full-time pro set-ups.

“At the start, you think it’s great playing Playstation all day but then you realise you have so much free time, you need to do something,” he says as he explains how he started working in software sales for a company called Document Genetics.

Ryan is now back in a full-time environment with Coventry but he has decided to continue with his work outside rugby. That means training from 7.30am to 1.30pm, then clocking in from 2pm to 5pm and doing a full day of software sales on Wednesdays.

Screenshot 2023-08-26 at 03.07.18 Ryan has joined Coventry this season. Coventry Coventry

“You never know when rugby’s going to finish,” says Ryan. “It’s nice to have a different environment. I go into work on a Wednesday and it’s so different going in to see all the rugby lads. It’s another string to your bow.”

As for the rugby, Ryan believes that playing in the Championship has developed his game over the last few years, even if there is a divide between the top sides with their full-time set-ups, S&C, good facilities, deep coaching staffs, big squads, and the other clubs.

Coventry finished third last season and Ryan jumped at the chance to link up with head coach Alex Rae, who he briefly worked with before while on loan at Bedford. 

He believes the Championship is a good place for a young Irish player like him.

“Alex has created a good, young set-up and Coventry play a nice brand of rugby, wide-wide and playing in transition,” says Ryan.

“They have good facilities, a big stadium, a 4G pitch, a nice gym. It’s fully professional so they get your food and everything, it’s a great environment to show where you’re at and get to the next level.

“A lot of players have been there and gone on to the Premiership and places like that.”

Ryan clearly has a habit of making things happen.

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