WHEN SEAN RYAN made his senior debut for Offaly in 2006, the GAA landscape in the county looked very different compared to the present day.
Ryan is captain of the Offaly hurlers this year, but it was the county’s footballers who offered him the first taste of top-level inter-county action as a youngster.
11 years ago, Offaly’s footballers were plying their trade in Division 1 A of the league. As a 19-year-old, the Birr native featured off the bench in top flight games against Cork, Mayo, Tyrone, Kerry and Monaghan.
Offaly finished a point behind Fermanagh in the table and were relegated to the second tier, but that blow was softened by a run to the Leinster final later that summer.
Ryan was an unused sub as the Faithful went down to Dublin in the provincial decider, with Alan McNamee’s 53rd minute red card derailing their chances of silverware.
In 2007, he made his senior debut for Offaly hurlers in a four-point defeat to Tipperary in the All-Ireland qualifiers. Ryan finished with an impressive tally of 1-2, but Lar Corbett’s injury-time goal clinched a victory that flattered the Premier at Semple Stadium as Offaly were left to rue a shocking tally of 17 wides.
Ryan went on to make 87 appearances for the county in both codes, but a lack of underage development meant a rot quickly set in at senior level as the county struggled to bring through young players. Tight games against Dublin and Tipperary became a distant memory.
After six years solely with the footballers and two years balancing both, Ryan has thrown his lot in with the hurlers since 2012.
They take on Westmeath in the Leinster SHC quarter-final on Saturday evening, just over a year on from the 2-22 to 1-11 hammering they shipped to the Lake County in the round robin stage.
As one of the elder statesmen on Kevin Ryan’s hurling squad, the 31-year-old is enjoying the recent influx of talent onto the panel. He believes the manager has set them on the right path to take the county back up the ladder.
“It’s my 12th year now involved with Offaly seniors between hurling and football,” he said. “I don’t read into it too much. If you’re young enough and you’ve something to say, it weighs the same as any of the older lads.
“I’m enjoying it and there’s a good buzz there. We’ve a lot of young lads at the minute, they’re driving things on and it’s a good vibe in the camp. I’d rather be the other side of 30 to be honest but happy enough with the way things are going.”
Former Waterford selector Ryan was appointed in charge for a four-year term, and Ryan believes he’s clearly looking to the future as he seeks to rebuild the county’s fortunes.
“He’s coming in to Offaly and obviously we haven’t had much success over the last couple of years,” said the woodwork teacher. “From his point of view he’s looking at getting as much as he can out of his initial year, but he’s definitely thinking of the long-term as well.
“He wants to bring in the younger lads, get them trained up to a fitness level that’s required of inter-county and make sure going forward Offaly is back on the rise.
“I really do get the impression off him that there is a bit of fore planning with him. When you are at the other end of the scale you want instant results too so that’s important also.
“We probably haven’t got the best press over the years, but inside the dressing room we are very positive. Especially the younger lads. We don’t read too much into it, we’re well hardened now at this stage after listening to different things. It doesn’t really affect us. 99% percent of the panel don’t pass much heed to it.”
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