Jason Ryan came from complete obscurity to take the reigns as Wexford manager in 2007 but he had spent a decade learning the GAA trade in London before then
IN June 2010, Wexford travelled to Ruislip and thumped London in the All Ireland Senior Football Championship. It was the first round of the qualifiers and the game finished 4-22 to 0-9.
The game was never likely to end in an upset. Wexford’s, Waterford-born manager had played in London for almost 10 years. He knew their psyche. London had only ever glimpsed success, but one day they were bound to pull off the big one. Ryan made sure his players weren’t lacking in motivation.
His experiences with London made him, of that he’s certain.
He came to London from Waterford in 1994 to study PE and Biology at St. Mary’s University in Twickenham. It took four years before he stopped going home to play GAA for the summer and in 1998, he signed with the footballers of Tara and the hurlers of St Gabriels.
There were bigger ambitions however. The London footballers beckoned like a performance tool because it was the highest level Ryan could aspire to play in the British capital.
The summer he joined, London entered a bi-annual competition known as the Gaelic Football World Cup. It was played at St Vincent’s in Dublin and contested by teams from North America, Australasia, Britain and Europe. The final was played in Parnell Park and London got beat by North America. The result didn’t matter so much. What mattered for Jason Ryan was that the players were committed.
“During that period, you’d never go to matches and see players you hadn’t seen before,” says Ryan. “We had a settled squad from the start of the league through to the Championship.”
Ryan remembers Abbeyfeale in 1999, and a National League victory over Limerick
“It was the most significant victory during my time in London,” he says emphatically. “Like winning the All-Ireland final. As sweet as anything I’ve experienced with any team, at any stage because of the effort it took.”
That success was a seminal day for a group of players who played to win every time they paraded in London green. On that occasion though they cat walked. This victory wasn’t just for them. It was wider proof they were part of something worthwhile. It was for friends and family and everyone who read their match reports, all two or three inches, in the Irish newspapers on a Monday morning. Some days at least they drew frowns of surprise.
London trained a bit in Cockfosters back then. It was way down the end of the Piccadilly Line on the Underground Network – the last stop. For most commuters the destination exists only as an ear-pricking word spoken by platform announcers from Hounslow to Holborn. Ryan had to journey there quite a few Sunday mornings when Tommy McDermott was the gaffer. He’d leave the house when some of his peers in Twickenham had yet to check-in from the night before, or when others were checking out to visit landmark Sunday booze halls like The Church in King’s Cross.
A 9am start wasn’t too bad though, as long as you didn’t have to travel a couple of hours to get there. And with McDermott in charge, you made sure not to be late.
The professionalism of the training was gut-wrenching but the atmosphere and the training drills were brilliant.
Ryan will never forget the pre-season work in 1999. It was completed on a running track in Perivale, just off the Central Line. Ryan and his teammates shared lanes with athletes focused on athletics when London’s focus was to save face. It was tough, but operating outside their comfort zone became a feature of the season.
And if it wasn’t Cockfosters, the team trained in the Tir Chonaill Gaels grounds in Greenford. They ploughed lap after lap of a hill at pitch side. It became a symbol of dread and a feeling they got to know well. That sloping piece of ground was a source of discomfort long before studs scratched the soil on early morning runs. Your stomach warned you hours before take-off. Sure, even the washing facilities felt less than desirable. There was a big bath of cold water in the middle of the shower room and the squad would all pile in there when the punishment was finished. “We had a cold spa, long before ice baths became fashionable,” says Ryan. “But we were so warm after training we didn’t care.”
Nothing put them off. One night seven or eight of their cars were broken into during a training session and everything was taken – mobile phones, money, the lot. But the same cars were parked up again the following week, this time with plastic sheeting taped to the windows.
The above piece is an extract from A Very Different County (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Very-Different-County-Robert-Mulhern/dp/0956829805/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1355146998&sr=8-1) – the story of Gaelic Games in London by former Kildare Nationalist reporter Robert Mulhern