July 10, 1992
Donegal's Tommy Ryan
Donegal's flying left-footer Tommy Ryan - The Termon Torpedo
Who's Donegal's leading scorer in this year's Ulster football championship? Martin McHugh, Declan Bonner, Tony Boyle…? No, for that distant honour, hats should be thrown high in the air in celebration of Termon's Tommy Ryan, a player very much on target in every sense of the word.
Having proven themselves as the most prolific points-scoring unit in Ulster over the last four years, the Donegal frontmen are indeed a celebrated lot and rightly so. A 3-52 tally in their three games to date (including a reply against Cavan) in '92 speaks volumes for their ability to outgun successive rearguards bent on negating the skilful Tir Connail men by hook or by crook. It's the kind of raw statistic which makes one look twice at manager Brian McEniff when he comments "one of our weakness has been that we do not always score enough from the openings we create …," Sunday Indo, 24/5/'92.
The affable Donegal boss may have been honestly expressing his pent-up frustrations at some of the over-indulgent ball-carrying antics of his supremely confident charges but he couldn't possibly argue with the Return on Investment notched for him by Ryan and Company in this year's provincial campaign. Even Cyril Farrell would be cock - a- hoop with a weighted average of 1-17 per championship match. In total, Termon's Ryan has hit 1-8 of his team's account, enough one would suggest, to make the Donegal supreme pretty happy with many people's unsung hero of the Donegal attack.
A representative for Donegal Oil Company, the 25-year old marksman-in-chief has certainly proved a point (or two) over the course of this year's campaign. Displaying ample measures of artistry and power in what has arguably been his best season in the Donegal colours to date, Tommy Ryan is on a roll at present. Always recognised as a gritty ball-winner on the inter-county stage, football supporters across the province have perceived a new cutting edge enveloping Ryan's game. Observers closer at home though would tell you a different story: Ryan has consistently been among the scores.
The facts weigh heavily in favour of Ryan supporters claims that the six foot flying wing forward is no mean scoring machine. In last year's Donegal Intermediate Final, Ryan helped himself to seven points, six of them recorded in the second half and all of them from long range. Needless to say in Termon's 1-15 to 1-7 victory over Bundoran, the team's county star was named Man of the Match. Enough said!
In a county where attacking talent has seldom been rare and where presently any six of twelve attackers on the county panel could justify their place up front, Ryan's law is simple. "Nobody is guaranteed their place unless you produce the goods. The pressure is on each and everyone of us so I know myself what I have to do when I am on (the team)". Such is the competition for places on the Donegal team and the addition of a sometimes dodgy knee has seen the Termon Torpedo roll up his sleeves determinedly to consolidate his position on the Donegal first fifteen.
Since making his debut with Donegal seniors in a championship match against Armagh in 1988, he has certainly buckled down to the task of making an attacking berth his own. Viewed as one of the best club players in Donegal, the Termon stalwart will make his fifteenth championship appearance at senior level for his native county, if, as expected, he takes his place against Derry in the provincial decider.
Just back from a training stint in Donegal town with the rest of the county panel, Tommy the terror discounts any suggestion that his own game has peaked already and that we've seen the best of him in earlier rounds. "I don't think I have peaked and neither has the team yet. I've been happy that my form has been improving in each of the games and I certainly feel there's more in the "tank"yet", the 'erstwhile midfielder responded.
Alongside the likes of Maurice McBride, Kevin McGettigan, Adrian Brady and Odran McBride, Ryan's never-say-die attitude and on-field experience has played a big part in Termon's elevation to senior ranks for the first time ever since this season. A small townland, north-west of Letterkenny, Termon make do with one of the smallest playing populations in Donegal but in the absence of any great competition from soccer, in particular, the club are riding on the crest of a wave these days and for Tommy Ryan, that's just what the doctor ordered.
A loyal clubman Donegal's robust 12 stone half forward first caught the eye of Donegal's senior selectors when with Sligo Regional Technical College, he won two Trench Cup medals. In a quality side which also included Mayo's Anthony McGarry and Sean Clarke plus Roscommon's Tomas O'Brien and Sligo's Shane Durkin, the Shell Products distributor blossomed. The wealth of talent and skills displayed a year earlier at county minor level were nicely honed for future, larger stages.
At under eighteen level, he had enjoyed a taste of what was to come years later when forming an integral part of a highly polished Donegal team which fulfilled all expectations in winning out the Ulster championship in 1985. A product of Saint Eunan's College in Letterkenny, Ryan is in fact only one of six players to have played on winning Donegal teams in Ulster minor and senior finals. Not yet married the chances are though that grandchildren in the Ryan household in years ahead may just be made aware of that statistic although in the aftermath of the Ryan/Donal Buggy senior/minor show on July 19th, the records may have to be re-written.
Equally adept at providing quality ball to colleagues better placed, Ryan possesses that rare ability which particularly sets apart world-class rugby wingers like Campese, Blanco and Tukalo, i.e. when to release and when to go solo. It's a quality that makes him a players player and a favourite among the supporters of the football mad most northern of all counties. Son of Tommy Ryan senior, former Sligo and Connacht Railway Cup star Tommy junior's roots are most distinctly emblazoned in Donegal soil. Mrs Kathleen Ryan (nee Brady) of Termon sees to that. With a valuable ability to carry the ball straight at defences, Donegal's top-scorer has caused all sorts of problems for opposing defenders. His 12 stone frame and innate strength plus his ability to shield the ball has often forced defenders to foul him out of sheer frustration and sometimes helplessness. Invariably messers. Ryan has done the donkey work. To pigeon hole all three down to such roles would, needless to say, be well wide of the mark, however. They didn't get to where they are today in gaelic football by playing bit parts only.
After '85, Ryan's star continued to rocket skywards on the playing field for the Hoops. In 1987 he joined the likes of John Joe Doherty, John Cunningham, John Ban Gallagher, Manus Boyle and Barry McGowan on the Donegal team which swept all opposition aside to win the Ulster under 21 championship title. Better was to follow however, as the side powered their way to the All Ireland title with once again the Termon star playing a central role in campaign.
A minor divisional league winner previously with Termon and now tracked by brothers Christy, Erskine and Patrick in the family football stakes, Tommy the Younger could have been the only Gael in Donegal surprised when county boss Tom Conaghan decided in 1988 that he was ready for inter-county fare on the senior front. The Donegal manager was spot-on, but permanency was difficult to find as Donegal raced towards a prospective Ulster final place in the summer of '89. Such realities and the advent of peculiar knee trouble slowed down the hitherto meteoric rise which had marked Ryan's earlier days with underage Donegal sides.
Nevertheless, he did come good en route. A 1-4 personal tally against Cavan in the '89 first round championship tie earned him wide-spread respect among the discerning Donegal faithful. 1989 perhaps marked his finest season at any level for Donegal but patience, dedication and total commitment were required thereafter for obvious reasons, plus a sojourn in America.
It was in the States that he met up with Derry's Brian McGilligan, a player he's looking forward to showing a clean pair of heels this coming Sunday. Both played for the Kevin Barry team in Philadelphia. According to Tommy, McGilligan typifies the strength and commitment shown so far by the Derry side, which Tommy rates highly… "if only on the wing". It's a Derry side whom the Donegal ace confesses to knowing pretty well. "They've been doing the business for a long while now and their strength and hunger has made them into a very formidable team", declared the highly respected attacker who has faced the Downey brothers, Hugh and Henry, on several occasions at underage level in meetings with Derry.
A minor and under 16 mentor at club level in addition to being a team selector with Termon, Tommy Ryan played well in the '89 season and was unlucky to lose out on a provincial championship medal at the final hurdle. This season he's been on song like never before and although he may be seen by others unconnected with Donegal as the team's strongman in attack, there's much more to his game than sheer power, Tommy admits that this year could be make or break for the current squad but in what he reckons will be "a niggle-free game", Donegal posses the better quality footballers.
With a repetition of the dash, finesse and awareness we've come to expect from the Termon star, July 19th could see him as an odds on favourite for the Player of the Championship award. A nicer fellow couldn't get it.
Taken from Hogan Stand Magazine 10-07-92
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