Ryan is ready to roll again

GAA: Connacht Senior Football Championship

Ready to roll: Ryan O'Donoghue is ready to go again for Mayo this summer. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.

Ready to roll: Ryan O'Donoghue is ready to go again for Mayo this summer. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.

Spend some time with Ryan O'Donoghue and you'll come away with a few things to think about. He's fiercely proud of where he comes from, he relishes a challenge and he's determined to succeed.

O'Donoghue was one of a number of young Mayo players who made a serious impression in last year's run to the All Ireland final; the Belmullet man kicked two points in the final and didn't at all look out of place at the top table.

He's also one of those unfortunates who has missed out a big chunk of their college experience over the past year and a bit. He's just graduated from UL with a degree in Business with accounting and finance; while the not being in the lecture halls was challenging, he also missed out on one of the big parts of a young footballer's life - a chance to play the Sigerson Cup over the past two seasons.

He was given the task of replacing Cillian O'Connor as Mayo's free-taker for the Sligo game and it was something he relished, saying: "I think it is fair to say that I do enjoy it. I wouldn’t say for the added pressure, but the responsibility of it. It lights the fire in my belly. I’ve been given responsibility in the past and been able to deal with it," before adding that he's always been working away on it in case he was needed: "Cillian could have got injured the last day in the first minute and someone would have to take them (the frees ), so I’ve always been prepared and thankfully, James put his trust in me for that game."

O'Donoghue spent a few years playing soccer with Sligo Rovers underage sides - but it just didn't excite him as much as playing for Mayo and Belmullet. The sense of pride in his home area and the area's pride in those who represent Mayo, pushes through when he speaks about it. "Of course, and the likes of Billy Joe and Willie Joe (Padden ) before, then Chrissy (Barrett ), it is football crazy. It is half what drove me back to Gaelic football, was the drive and desire from the Belmullet people to win the intermediate, which was great for the parish to be back in senior football for the first time in 44 years in 2018.

"That was the first box ticked then to be playing senior football for Mayo and it was such a proud moment for me - last year before the final, all the texts and people down around town was amazing."

"Even the kids in the school; I was back in Auglim there where a young lad got an award for not missing a day of school for eight years and it was just nice to go and see how appreciative they are; and even the teachers in my local school in Srah, it was just lovely to see.

"I probably didn’t realise how appreciative they are of me and Eoghan (O'Donoghue ) and Chrissy and everyone and how much they love it and any chance I get to give it back if I can, I’ll do my utmost to make myself available, because they are so grateful for everything."

The drifting away of a number of senior players after the end of last year's championship has left a bit of a hole in the experience levels of this current Mayo team - but it is what those who have left have passed on to the next generation and the expectations they laid down, that will keep things going the right way, Ryan believes.

"Obviously, everyone saw the new lads that came through last year. We had seven or eight debuts against Leitrim last year, and how well we were integrated with the team was a credit to the older lads and how open they were.

"Obviously, a lot of leaders have left this year, but they showed us how to be leaders in the dressing room last year, how to act, how to come to training, make sure you are on time.

"Chrissy, Tom Parsons, Keith Higgins, all them, and we’ve still got Colm Boyle there - they show you the ropes, they were so open. They just gave us the opportunity to stand up and speak up and we were listened to and I think that has shown, with the amount of lads who have been able to get into the team and stay in the team.

"Sometimes you see younger players come and they are good for two weeks and then they are kind of gone, whereas the older lads gave us the opportunity to be leaders and that has shown over the last few years.

"For me, the challenge this year was that I didn’t just want to have one good year last year, I wanted to be able to push on this year and Tommy, Eoghan, Oisin and all the lads, especially the way like Enda has come in this year and Darren McHale; so that is the challenge for me that I set myself this year, that I wanted to be better, it’s been going pretty well.

"The older lads, they gave us the opportunity - they were open at the start to let us speak and the team has reaped the rewards."

In his first full season he managed to make it all the way to the biggest day - to the most surreal All Ireland final ever with no crowds there, but there was some support that meant a lot to him along the way on their journey to Croke Park that day.

"I've a funny enough story; we were on the bus from the hotel to the pitch and obviously, mum and dad weren’t allowed into the game, with no fans allowed.

"Dublin were in front of us on their bus and we were the second bus - we were just at the Hogan entrance; and my mother was there and roaring crying waving at the Dublin bus, thinking it was ours and I was looking at her from our bus.

"My father was there with the hand around her and I was just thinking, how much it meant to her to see me on All Ireland final day; she probably never believed it would happen and I just remember seeing that and thinking I am going to play my heart out and do as much as I can, because I knew how proud they were of everything I’d done; and from then on I was just playing for them - because I knew how much it meant to them and tried to do the best I could."

Ryan O'Donoghue was speaking at the launch of AIB's sponsorship of the All Ireland Senior Football Championship.


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