BY NOEL HORGAN
HE gained nationwide recognition for his tremendous achievements as manager with the Cork ladies football team in recent times, but Eamonn Ryan has also tasted success as a mentor with the men’s team in the past.
He was manager when Cork lifted the Munster title in 1983, and he served as a selector under Larry Tompkins when Cork collected provincial honours as well in 2002, so he can justifiably claim to possess a bit of a Midas touch at this stage.
Asked to come on board as a selector by new team boss Peadar Healy this year, Ryan revealed he had to think about taking on the job initially, primarily because of his age.
‘I’m in my mid-seventies, so I obviously had reservations, but I felt there was a danger of overstaying my welcome with the ladies team, and that if didn’t become involved, I’d get into something else, like coaching underage teams or whatever. I’m thrilled to be here now,’ said Ryan ahead of Sunday’s Munster semi-final showdown with Tipperary in Thurles, at 3.30pm – a game he regards as a potential banana skin for Cork.
‘We’ll be expected to win it, and, no doubt, we’ll have to take a lot of criticism if we don’t, but I feel that people are making us favourites without thinking the whole thing through.
‘I mean Tipp won a minor All-Ireland a few years ago, they reached an All-Ireland U21 final which they were very unlucky to lose to Tyrone last year, and they almost beat Cork in a Munster senior semi-final two years ago.
‘If you follow on logically from that, you’d nearly be making Tipp favourities,’ he suggested.
‘I spent a winter helping out with their minors the year they won the All-Ireland, and I can tell you they have fellas playing senior now who have a no-fear attitude, such as Michael Quinlivan, who is a superb footballer, and George Hannigan, who is another fantastic player.’
Ryan agrees there’s a lot of pessimism surrounding Cork’s championship prospects this year following the loss to Kildare in an All-Ireland qualifier in 2015 and their relegation in the league a few months ago.
‘Reading all the pundits, it would seem as if we are now outside the top six or seven, but I’m an optimist by nature, and I think we have the potential to make an impression with the good players we have in the squad,’ he said.
‘Obviously, I wouldn’t be happy with the way the league went for us, although you could argue we were unlucky to be relegated, finishing level on six points with a number of other teams.
‘But at the end of the day the league table doesn’t lie, and getting relegated after losing to Kildare in the championship last year means we are a bit down the pack at the moment.
‘We used a lot of players in the league, because we, as selectors, had to start throwing the net wide following the championship defeat by Kildare last year.
‘I know people will say we don’t have a particularly settled team as a consequence, but we’re very happy with the way the lads are going about their business in training, and once you have the right application, it can transform the situation fairly quickly.’
Making the point that Cork were unlucky not to beat Kerry in the first of their two Munster final meetings in Killarney last year, Ryan said, bearing that in mind, the team shouldn’t be dismissed as complete no-hopers this year.
‘The lads are fully aware they have to prove themselves, and I’d be very encouraged by the attitude and commitment they have shown in training, but I wouldn’t go any further than that in terms of assessing what the summer has in store for us,’ Ryan said.
‘As I’ve said, I think we are capable of making an impact, but we’ll be taking it one step at a time, and we are really conscious of the Tipperary threat on Sunday,’ he stressed.