Cooney hails Ryan's impact with St. Thomas'
By John Harrington
When Conor Cooney returned to training with his club St. Thomas’ on the Thursday after Galway were beaten by Limerick in the 2018 All-Ireland Final, one of the first people he saw was former Limerick hurler and manager, TJ Ryan.
It must have seemed like a bad joke at the time. Limerick had just broken his heart and now here was one the county’s most recognisable hurling figures on Cooney’s own door-step.
It might have been a sensitive week for a Limerick man to begin coaching a Galway club team with as many inter-county stars as St. Thomas’ have, but Cooney and his team-mates have been very glad to have him.
Working closely with manager Kevin Lally, Ryan helped St. Thomas’ to their third Galway title in six years and will be a key man on the sideline on Sunday when they play Ballyhale Shamrocks in the AIB All-Ireland Club SHC Final.
“TJ has been great, he’s a great character with great man-management skills, he’d always be talking to the lads and he’s great craic,” said Cooney.
“He has vast experience and he’s been doing a lot of training with us, bringing game-specific drills, things like that.
“Even his matchday management would be a big plus for us, he’s seen moves and switches and tactical stuff and that’s a massive plus for us. We’re very fortunate he’s involved and he’s a great guy to have around.”
Ryan certainly knows his way around Croke Park but so do most of these St. Thomas’ players having won the All-Ireland title as recently as 2013.
That experience can only stand to them on Sunday, but Cooney is very much looking forward rather than backwards.
“People keep asking me about 2013 and I keep telling them we have it in the back of our minds,” he said.
“We’re not looking back, we’re looking forward. It’s a nice thing to remember but it’s very much in the past now and we’re very much focused on preparing for the next day and like every match, getting everything right, getting the heads right, the body’s right and we’ll see how we go.
“There’s still a good core of the lads who were there in 2013 and there’s a few of the younger guys who’ve really come on and made a big impact as well. We’re in a good place, there’s lots of guys, Eanna, Shane, Fintan Burke, Cian Mahony, David Sherry is another lad who was on the periphery.
“So, there’s younger guys who have come on and made a big difference to us. We’ve experienced it and we’ve been there but there are guys who were looking on when they were younger and they didn’t have the chance and they’re probably relishing this as an opportunity now so it’s a good mix of experience and youth in our side so we’re in a good place.”
Playing in Croke Park on big days is something Cooney has become very used to in recent years and his younger team-mates haven’t been shy about coming to him for some advice ahead of Sunday’s match.
“There were a couple of questions about the sod, about boots, the best boots to wear, things like that,” said Cooney.
“The younger lads there, they have great heads on them, very level headed. We're lucky, we got out for a puck around there (Croke Park) - we got used to the surroundings a small bit. That was great for them as well.
“A few of them might have a bit more experience of it. It's just the opportunity to do that for lads who haven't pucked around there before is a great thing.
“We won't be one bit worried about the younger guys in the team. They'll take a match and have zero fear whether it's on here or the pitch down home. They're just looking forward to it, I think.”