Monday 18 December 2017

Ryan walks tall once again

Lock overcame serious injury in bid to make the World Cup

Donnacha Ryan
Donnacha Ryan
Donnacha Ryan and Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during a press conference at Carton House, Maynooth

Donnacha Ryan had to relearn how to walk before he could run.

There was a time when he feared he would not play again, never pull on the red or the green shirt.

It cut him to the core.

"The 72-year-old women in a bank queue asking you how are you enjoying retirement?

"They're tough questions to be asked. And to answer too!" he said.

It all centred around a rare foot injury that impeded his recovery and subsequently invaded his mind with the very real dread of ending his career.

Medically termed Sesamoiditis, the refusal of a small bone in the ball of his foot to repair became a tool of torture every morning.

The experience took Ryan to hell and back.

"You're looking at guys playing matches and I couldn't watch them at all because I found it hard watching people running.

"I couldn't even watch athletics," he shared.


The intervention of surgery and the grit of the Nenagh man combined in a victory of mind over matter.

He is back and he is different.

"I'm very philosophical. You have to be," he said.

"I met a guy yesterday actually who has a fibular sesamoid fracture as well. He's had it for three years and he tried to explain, like I did with the five people I've met (who have had it).

"You can feel their pain because they constantly have it. They're walking with a limp on the outside of their foot.

"When they see that you've had this injury, can get back running and then playing, they can see that it can be done.

"By the same token, there is a lot of risk in getting the operation I had done," he continued.

"The surgeon said to me he had seen this only eight times before in two rugby players and the other six were ballerinas, so you've high dexterity."

It must have been part of the reason why he made his way to see a live performance of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite!

"Funnily enough, I've gone to see The Nutcracker since then and you've got to hand it to them.

"You can see why they'd get sesamoiditis after prancing around on your toes for an hour and a half."

What now? The man who once waited in agitated silence at the never-ending partnership between Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan for Munster and Ireland is well down the queue again.

Now, Ireland captain O'Connell and Leinster's tall boy Devin Toner are the incumbents. Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson and Ryan are in their slipstream and tearing each either apart for the right to make the plane.

A man with nothing to lose is a dangerous opponent for those planning to make the World Cup and for the Welsh tomorrow.

"My motivation is to go out and put in the best performance I can," said Ryan.

"It's not going to be perfect but, by the same token, I'm really going to enjoy it.

"A lot of games I have played and the caps that I have, you're expected to win and you mightn't have enjoyed it as much as you would have liked, obviously you enjoy it afterwards but you wouldn't soak it up beforehand."

The changeover at Ireland from Declan Kidney to Joe Schmidt happened just as Ryan was making his way back from one injury only to fall to another.

"Now, it's about making the most of my other personal attributes," he smiled. "Four years ago, I was in combat with Declan Kidney for years trying to break up the Donncha O'Callaghan and Paul O'Connell partnership.

"I was in a different mindset compared to where I am now."

And it's a good thing. He sees the value of the co-operative, of sacrificing for the greater good. Schmidt will see that.


"Now, it's important that the work I do on analysis and stuff can help enhance the preparation of other players and make them better.

"I suppose it comes with age. It means you have some bedrock of resilience, that the analysis you're doing is for the benefit of the team."

While Ryan will do what he can for his country, there lives on the personal need to achieve.

"Obviously, you have your own selfish ambitions to do well," he warned.

He has walked in the shadows for long enough.

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