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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 3 March 2021

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: The two sides of Ryan McMenamin

Fermanagh boss is the ultimate outsider who broke the system.

McMenamin: "I played county football to win and that's all I did."
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

AFTER RYAN MCMENAMIN’S Tyrone career came to an exasperated and frustrating close with defeat to Kerry in a spiteful qualifier defeat in 2012, things changed.

Three months later, he played for his club Dromore in the county final against Errigal Ciaran and his John Lydon punk do was becoming softer. Another few months later and physically he came to resemble Ezra Koenig, the lead singer of Vampire Weekend, one of his favourite bands.

The hair might have got longer, but in effect he was shedding some of the cartoonish ‘Ricey’ image.

You know what we mean.

“Everyone sees the persona of the Tyrone corner-back, All-Star, teak-tough, roaring in somebody’s ear,” as put by Mickey Donnelly, who would bring him into his Tyrone minor management backroom staff by 2015.

And it wasn’t something the man himself shied away from.

“No one is going to go through their whole life perfect,” he said in an interview after he said goodbye to county football.

“My football career will be remembered more for the off-the-ball stuff. At the end of the day I don’t really care. I played county football to win and that’s all I did. I just loved winning. It drove me too far sometimes.”

The ‘Hyde’ side of his persona has had lasting ramifications that takes a personal meeting to see the ‘Dr Jekyll’ in him.

In working as a teacher in Armagh and coaching Derry U20s, Donnelly has heard it all.

“But then when anybody gets to know him, they recognise there is a real good human being there. One that genuinely cares about people,” says Donnelly.

“He was so skilled at that. He sees himself as two different people. The ‘Ricey’ persona on the football field and then you have the Ryan McMenamin off the field, which is better reflected by the coach, and the manager.”

Let’s show, and not tell.

When Cathal McCarron reached the very end game of his chromic gambling addiction and the world closed in, it was McMenamin and another Dromore man that lifted him from Dublin airport to bring him to a recovery centre in Newry.

His club and former county team-mate Ronan McNabb tells, “It will take some player to topple Ricey, in terms of his personality, the way he carried himself. Maybe not on the field all the time, but off the field. Like, he was always in good shape, he looked after himself and for us boys, he was a great role model for anybody involved in Dromore.”

So much so, that he went and became qualified to drive buses from a young age so that he could transport the underage teams he mentored, which included the likes of Niall Sludden.

As they progressed into the senior team, McMenamin provided the social lubrication.

“He was brilliant in the dressing room, keeping the craic going. I would say that was one of his biggest traits. He was enjoyable to be with and any of the younger lads came onto the panel, he would have a nickname ready-made for them. And that made them feel part of it right away,” adds McNabb.

“Sometimes, I know myself, when you are a young lad and want to get playing, you might not be invited all the nights out or whatever, but Ricey always made sure to keep boys in the loop.”

When McNabb was playing for the Tyrone minors in 2008 and sustained an injury, he wasn’t even on the Dromore senior team at that stage, but McMenamin called one day unexpectedly to put him in contact with the Tyrone senior physio, Louis O’Connor.

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In so many ways, it was so natural for him to progress to becoming a senior inter-county manager, a role he took on when he succeeded Rory Gallagher as Fermanagh manager after two years spent as a selector and coach.

He faces the first big test now that his name is on the door. Cavan are coming to Enniskillen on Saturday night and a win would go some way to keeping them in the second tier of football into a third consecutive year with two further games at home to Armagh and Laois as well as a trip to Clare.

McMenamin has surrounded himself with familiar faces from his career in former Tyrone great Joe McMahon, and his former Dromore manager Paul McIver.

Back in October 2017, McIver was a guest of a Q&A event at a coaching day hosted by Down minor coach Steven Poacher in St Columban’s school in Kilkeel.

At the time, he was managing Kilcoo and shared a juicy nugget with the coaches present. He said his jobs were made all the more easier by the character of two unique individuals he had in the Dromore and Kilcoo dressing rooms.

“Both clubs had almost a mini-management team among the players,” he said.

“While some managers are constantly sorting out players in their personal lives, coping with different problems, I never had to worry about that, because Ryan McMenamin already took that responsibility on with Dromore, and Conor Laverty did it with Kilcoo.”

The two men have more than voluminous beards in common, with Laverty’s coaching work with Monaghan coming in for recognition.

“There are obvious comparisons with Ricey and Conor Laverty,” says Donnelly.

“I would see then as spiritual leaders within their clubs. Evolving into a massive county player and then county coaches.”

Barry Mulrone played a full decade with Fermanagh from 2010 and while taking a year out now, isn’t ruling himself out of a return next year. As a defender, he spent a lot of time at training being coached on the specifics by McMenamin.

Asked for a single word on him, he instantly replies, “Desire,” and elaborates.

“He’s mad keen for improvement. Not only for what it is going to do for himself, but for what he can do for you and the team. He just wants to see the best for whatever team he is involved in. He is a very driven character.

“Some of that driven thing might be down to the fact he didn’t make Tyrone minors or U21s, but when he got into the senior team, he stayed there for about 12 years.”

The ultimate outsider, who broke the system and bent it to his own will. Is there anything more Tyrone than that?

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About the author:

Declan Bogue

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