HAVING made his debut in 2000, Ray Ryan is one of the most experienced players on the Sarsfields senior hurling team.
For eight of those years, he toiled with little reward but last time around 51 years without senior success were finally ended as Sars beat Bride Rovers to claim the title. Now they are back in thedecider against Newtownshandrum and Ryan has no doubt the current side is the best he has played on for the club, simply because there is such a good spread of quality, leading to extremely tough competition for places.
“I’ve played with fantastic players all through my career,” Ryan says, “but we have 25, 30 fellas here who are all fantastic, you could play any 15 and the team wouldn’t weaken at all. “We have fantastic subs, and it’s brilliant to know that if you’re not playing well or the fella outside you isn’t playing well or a fella up the field isn’t playing well, that someone can come on and it won’t weaken the team.”
To emphasise the point, he lists several players who did not start in the Evening Echo SHC semi-final win over CIT, many of whom were getting their first senior run of the year as they had been part of the club’s junior side which reached the East Cork JAHC final. “Robert O’Driscoll was Cork U21 this year, Pat Barry was Cork U21 last year, Garvan (McCarthy) has an All-Ireland senior medal, Daniel Roche was Cork minor captain last year, Eoin O’Sullivan was Cork minor captain this year and can’t make it,” he says, “It’s usually a rule of thumb that if you’re a Cork minor you’ll be on the senior club team but we just have so many good players that these fellas can’t break in.”
In Ryan’s opinion, the extra experience gleaned from being a year older makes this side stronger than they were last year. “I think so, I think we’re definitely a better team than we were last year anyway,” he says. “We had players who were 18, barely 19, last year and a year to them is an awful difference, they’re a year stronger, a year more experienced, a year more intelligent, and the fellas who are older aren’t too old – well except maybe Pat (Ryan, his brother). He’s motoring well too though.
“We’re a little bit ahead, but there’s still definitely room for improvement.” Last year, the first-round game against Ballinhassig apart, when a 2-7 to 0-3 half-time lead was almost wiped out as Sars won 2-10 to 2-9, the Glanmire club routinely seemed to find themselves trailing at the break before powering home in the second half. This time, while not as pronounced, Ryan can see a similar pattern, though often the second-half overdrive is serving to finish off teams rather than merely claw back deficits.
“We still seem to be stumbling a small bit in the first half, but we seem to be a second half team,” Ryan says, “I don’t know is it because our fitness levels are high with the amount of younger players we have, but we seem to just go out and play a bit better in the second half. “Last year, we played a lot of good teams, we played the Glen, we played Newtown, Ballinhassig, these teams are very good. “We were underdogs against Newtown, underdogs against the Glen, so maybe this year we just have that confidence to know how good we are and how well we can play.”
Mention of last year’s Newtown win, in the quarter-final, naturally begs the question as to whether that game will have any bearing on Sunday? “I don’t think so, I think Newtown are a much better team this year,” he says. “They look a lot fresher, they look a lot hungrier, sometimes it takes, I wouldn’t say an early exit, but a defeat like the one against us to get the hunger back.