With the last hurling championship of the 20th century completed, Network 2’s ”Breaking ball” programme asked Liam Griffin, Nicky Brennan and Eamonn
Cregan to select their team of the decade. The selection was announced in October and included Declan Ryan at full forward. It was deserved recognition for one of Tipperary’s quieter stars of latter years. The placing of the burly Clonoulty man at number fourteen raised an eyebrow or two
because the bulk of his hurling has been on the half line. His inter-county career began at full forward when he marked Limerick’s Leonard Enright in the first round in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Tipp won comfortably that day, with Declan scoring his first championship point, but more importantly it marked the launch of his career that would harvest three All-Irelands, five Munster finals, three National leagues, two All-Stars and a host of other honours. In the History of Tipperary hurling for the past dozen years or so Declan’s role has been pivotal.
It has all been a long journey from Ballymore and the early tentative steps to hurling stardom. From Cashel C.B.S to Thomastown Vocational School in Kilkenny with whom he won an All-Ireland title beating Borrisokane in the Final. The talent was genetic, his father Tom, a native of Aherlow, having played Senior Football for Tipperary with ‘Babs’ Keating and his Uncle T.J Butler winning an All-Ireland U21 hurling medal with Tipp in 1964 – as a full forward incidentally. Aidan Butler is T.J’s son. Declan was first noticed in the mid eighties being on the Tipp minor football panel of ’85 and playing both county minor hurling and football in1986, though without success.
Interestingly football would have been the inherited game from his father and in a different county that might well have been his future. In Tipperary he played countyU21 Football in ’88 and ’89 but never stepped up to senior because the hurling had taken centre stage. In common with others like Nicky English and John Leahy it’s often claimed that he would have made the grade as successfully at football as hurling. Standing at 6ft. 1 inch and weighing around 13 stone at his peak he certainly had the physique for the big ball game. In more recent years he shyly admits that the weight has slipped up to 15 stone and in this winter he is reluctant to put a figure on it.
His shyness and reticence hides a depth of character, a deep down substance that Nicky English is quick to highlight. Others too have noticed the brain behind the brawn. Former All-Star, Paddy Kelly, describes him as ‘A thoughtful center-forward, always measuring and reading things….as essential to the likes of Fox and English as they were to him.. outstanding skill level…. Central to Tipperary in the past ten years.
Listing off Declan’s trophy collection is the same as listing Tipperary’s since 1988: a league medal ’88, Munster senior medals from ’88,’89,’91,’93 and 2001, further leagues in ’94, ’99 and 2001 as well as Oireachtas, South-east league and Railway Cup. The all-Star statuettes of ’88 and ’97 are prized possessions too as is the Cidona award the latter year. Special too is the All-Ireland U21 of ’89 where he captained Tipp. On the club scene there has been many successes too, capped by county senior titles in ’89 and ’97.
On the Question of his most admired opponents Declan readily names Seanie McMahon and Jim Cashman. He has high praise too for Cappawhite’s Thomas Costello whom he found tricky to handle at club level and he also has high regard for fellow Clonoulty men Joe Hayes and John Kennedy whose example and influence played an important role in his development as an inter-county player. Others who have won his admiration are Tony Doran, whose courage he singles out and Pa Fitzell of Cashel. The ’91 All-Ireland semi-final stands out as his most memorable: ”That was our first meeting since the Keady affair and there was something to prove. It was a great win for us, ”Other games that stand out in his life as a highlight include the league final of ’94 where he scored 2-1,the Mnster replay of ’91 and 1990 game with Limerick where he won man of the match.
Declan a rep for Norbrook Laboratories, plays golf of a 9 handicap at Dundrum and he and his wife Olive have two sons. Declan’s selection on the team of the decade, choosen by two Leinster men and a Limerick man, reflects his high standing nationally. Perhaps at times he has been given less credit within Tipp. Maybe like many great hurlers his true worth will only be appreciated when he finally hangs up his boots. – J.J Kennedy