Dublin hurler Paul Ryan. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE
FRANK ROCHE – 08 AUGUST 2013 02:30 PM
A SHORTHAND synopsis of Paul Ryan’s rollercoaster summer in Sky Blue …
JUNE 8: Dublin open their Leinster SHC campaign away to Wexford, but Ryan is nowhere to be seen on the starting team. The man whose 1-8 dead-ball haul against Limerick paved the way to league promotion, just two months earlier, has been dropped.
JUNE 15: Ryan is recalled for the Parnell Park replay and rewards Anthony Daly’s show of faith by scoring 1-9.
JUNE 23: Next up Kilkenny … and while Dublin come within seconds of a famous victory, our hero hardly feels too swell on the bus journey home from Portlaoise. He has been taken off after just 19 minutes, having squandered a glorious goal chance and a couple of placed balls he would normally send serenely over.
JUNE 29: Another managerial show of faith is rewarded by a flying replay start from Ryan. He clips two brilliant early points off Jackie Tyrrell (no less) and finishes with 0-8, despite a subsequent bout of the long-range free-taking ‘yips’. All’s well that ends well: Dublin have slain the Black-and-Amber beast.
JULY 7: Viva la revolution! Ryan plunders 2-7 on an historic day of deliverance for the Dubs. Galway put to the sword and a first Leinster title in 52 years.
AUGUST 6: Our Firhouse flyer has been been named as the GPA/GAA Opel hurler of the month for July.
AUGUST 11: Cork in Croker, an All-Ireland final berth beckoning for he who dares. Watch this space …
When it comes to daring exploits, Paul Ryan is never one to shirk a challenge. We saw that when he eschewed a tap-over free to go for the jugular in the Division 1B final against Limerick back in April.
We saw it, once more, with his first goal against Galway in the Leinster final. “I was surprised Dalo didn’t whip me off nearly after that!” he chuckles.
“But look, I’ve never been afraid to go for them ever since I’ve been very young … sometimes you’d be a hero and other days you’d be a villain.”
So is it vaulting ambition? A mindset that a goal is sometimes worth more than three points. Or merely a predator’s instinct?
“Eh, yeah, it would be kinda instinct. If I see the goal and there’s a gap, I usually go for it.
“But I suppose you have to weigh up the options as well, and trying to do all that in a split second.”
As for his second goal against Galway – a Canal End thunderbolt after leaving Kevin Hynes trailing in his wake – he admits: “I don’t know if I’ve ever scored one like that in my career.”
What a difference a month and five matches make. For Dublin’s opening Leinster foray – in Wexford Park – Ryan found himself kicking his heels on the bench for the first 46 minutes.
Was he sore at being dropped? “I suppose I was,” he concedes.
“I didn’t have the best of form there at the start of the year and yeah, he dropped me, and deservedly so. But then I came back into it and I suppose I had a bit of motivation there to try and keep my place. You don’t realise that ’til you get dropped.
“You’re devastated at first, but then you have to get your head around it very quickly because … I had to, there was a game the week after.
“But then he showed a bit of confidence and started me again, so I was happy with that. And while I was happy with my play from actual play, I suppose the frees didn’t go that well which usually go well. It was kind of the reverse. But then we had the Leinster final, which I was happy the way that went.”
In many ways, Ryan’s renaissance has mirrored that of Dublin’s collective resurgence through that helter-skelter five-week run. He highlights the “encouragement” provided by his inside partner-in-pillage, ‘Dotsy’ O’Callaghan, who led the charge in both Kilkenny outings and carried that form into the Leinster decider.
Hard to fathom that this is the same team that capitulated to Tipperary, 4-20 to 0-17, in Thurles last April. That Division One semi-final mismatch was Dublin’s dubious reward for sealing promotion at Limerick’s expense. At the time, it struck like a damning commentary on their championship aspirations, but Ryan preferred to see it as a wake-up call.
“I think we realised that our hurling wasn’t quick enough when we were playing against Tipp. They completely eclipsed us. Especially in that first half, we didn’t know where we were,” the Ballyboden St Enda’s man recalls.
“I suppose Dublin has always been known as a team that’s fit and a team that hits hard, but we’ve never been known for our hurling. But look, that might change over the next while … our hurling has quickened up, it’s smartened up an awful lot. We hope to bring that to the semi-final as well.”
The display against Galway was proof positive of Dublin’s soaring form graph: here was heads-up hurling, the type of cool-headed delivery you’d expect from a confident Cork (curiously enough). For Ryan, the performance was redolent of their 2011 league final tour de force against Kilkenny.
“There were lads thinking with their brains now, rather than just lumping it in like we used to.
“You can see the difference: if you look back at our games (from Division 1B), there are no lads waiting around with the ball to give it in. It’s straight in – there are lads looking up the whole time.”
Ryan maintains he “wasn’t surprised at all” that Leeside followed the capital’s Kilkenny-toppling lead. “Cork are Cork – on any day they can beat anyone,” he reminds. But this August, he can already sense a difference from two years ago when injury-denuded Dublin were preparing for a semi-final against the then-holders, Tipperary.
“We were kinda saying, ‘Jeez, it’s great to be here, isn’t it?’ … we were just happy to be in a semi-final. But do we really want to win this one?” he asks, rhetorically.
The answer, you can be sure, is yes … but Dublin will only get there if the performance is good enough: “That’s all we want to do at the end of the day and we want to see where that takes us.”