VETERAN ON CALL Kilmeena’s Niall Ryan is pictured in action against St Patrick's during last Saturday's Connacht Junior Club Final. Pic Conor McKeown
THE game was over and the cup presented. The dancing was done and the cheering had ceased. In a quiet corner of the victorious Kilmeena dressing-room Niall Ryan sat and surveyed the scene in front of him.
The 38 year-old full-forward had just kicked a goal and two points in the Connacht Junior club final and the satisfaction of winning with his friends and neighbours was evident.
Nearby, his father, Michael, wore a smile as broad as Clew Bay. The man listed as kit-man on the match program is much more than that, but properly describing what Ryan Snr does for the team would be impossible.
Michael was bubbling with pride. His eyes darted around at the Kilmeena men who were spread between two adjacent dressing-rooms. The big man had seen it all before but this was special. His son had scored a goal in a Connacht final, 18 seasons after doing the same thing when Kilmeena won the provincial title in 2003 and it was time to celebrate.
Ryan, the younger, was equally happy and told The Mayo News about the joy he was experiencing.
“It’s special. This is a great bunch of lads and to win a Connacht title together is just great. We played very well today and the lads deserve all the credit they’ll get.”
The full-forward was proud of his own contribution but placed all the credit on his colleagues who pulled the St Pat’s defenders all over the pitch.
“I was delighted to start today and play a small part. I won a few balls but it’s easy to play when you have runners coming from all angles. I love playing with these lads – they work hard and it shows.”
What was it like to score a goal in the Connacht final in 2003 and repeat the trick in 2022?
“It was great to get the goal today. At least this one was legal. I might have been in the square in 2003 but there was no doubt this time,” he added with a smile as thoughts turned to the future and the next challenge awaiting Kilmeena.
“We’ll celebrate this tonight and plan for the All Ireland semi-final after that. It’s great to have something to look forward to in these funny times.”