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Profile of Dessie Ryan

Taken from Tyrone G.A.A Annual 1987

When Ardboe’s Stephen Coney stepped forward to become the first ever captain to receive the Padraig O’Neill, it was certainly an historic day for one of Tyrone’s most illustrious clubs, but there can be little doubt that had it not been for the work of a certain Ballyronan publican, that wonderful moment might never have taken place.

Dessie Ryan is a man for whom Gaelic football has always played a major part in life. From the time , almost thirty years ago, when as a teenager he first played for Tyrone, he has enjoyed a career both on and off the field which can be described as nothing short of remarkable.

He has played football on three continents, won three National League medals, managed teams to victory in the Gael Linn Cup and Centenary Cup, won Tyrone League and Championship medals with different clubs, and coached sides to victory in the Derry, Tyrone and Ulster Senior Club Championships.

However, if you ask him what has given him most pleasure in the game, it is likely that none of these achievements will be mentioned. Instead it is the friends he has made, the memories he has to recall, and the knowledge that he has played with and against the very best which, together, are his greatest treasures.

Names such as Joe Keohane (R.I.P.), Billy Morgan, with whom he toured Ireland in 1984, and Mick O’Dwyer, whom he marked when Kerry visited New York in 1959, are among those who have supplied Dessie with some of his happiest memories.

After his Tyrone debut in the late 1950’s, Dessie was soon to bid farewell to Ireland and move Stateside, where he worked as a fireman. He was soon to figure prominently in the vibrant G.A.A. scene in New York.

On frequent trips home, he played in Clonoe’s Championship winning side of 1961, and later also played for Derrylaughan, with whom he won a League medal.

Meanwhile, he also won two National League medals playing on the New York side which beat Dublin in 1964 and Galway in 1966. Another highlight was New York’s facile victory over the "Galahs" in 1967, especially as the Australians had already brushed aside All-Ireland Champions Meath and runners-up Mayo.

More recently, Dessie turned his attention to team management, and when Ballinderry won three successive Derry titles, as well as the Ulster club title, his role was an important one. As is so often the case with such things, forward planning had very little to do with Dessie’s connection with Ardboe.

Early in the season he had declined offers from a number of clubs eager to secure his services, and indeed he only joined Ardboe on a one-off basis, when they faced Moy in their Championship opener. Credit for the club’s achievements, however, is something which Dessie is quick to attribute to others moreso than himself.

"I happened to be in the right place at the right time," he says. "The dedication and effort put in by the players and everyone connected with the team was really tremendous."


[Since this article was written, Dessie Ryan has coached Queen’s to Sigerson Cup titles in 1990 and 2000, Ryan Cup wins in 1992 and 1999, and he has been involved in the management of both Tyrone and Derry senior county teams, among other things. He managed Queen's between 1989 - 1992 and 1998 - 2000]

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