Commitment or sacrifice don’t enter the equation. It is all about doing something you love, something that deep down drives you.
Lester Ryan has been part of the Kilkenny senior hurling panel since 2011. By virtue of Clara’s dramatic drive to victory in the senior championship in 2013 he now finds himself captain for the new season.
Surprise and delight in equal measure, he assures.
“An honour, definitely,” he adds.
An honour without guarantees. In the dog eat dog world of inter-county hurling, players are as good as their last performance. Ryan has an acute understanding.
Last season he was voted player of the League in hurling. Yet, when it came to the championship he couldn’t nail down a starting place in the Kilkenny’s first XV.
Lester, a teacher at St Kieran’s College, has no problems with the harsh rules. Simple - he has to prove he is good enough.
“I am where I want to be,” he says of his involvement with Kilkenny. “It comes with no guarantees, so you work hard to be the best you can be. Every day you might not feel like going to the gym; you might not feel like doing a bit of running or things like that. When you are in the county set up you do it because of where you are, because you want to stay where your are.
Learn in school
“It is like everything. You don’t get where you want to be just by wanting to be there. You learn that in school. If you want to get to the next level, if you want to get on the Kieran’s senior team, or get to university, you have to work hard. I have no problem with that.”
Ryan, who blasted Clara to victory in the county final with a late goal from a free, is acutely aware of the “great opportunities that are there being involved with Kilkenny”. The county has been so successful, there is always the chance of winning something. A National League success last year and Walsh Cup this time round highlight the reality of the situation.
Four of the five years before he made the panel were All-Ireland winning seasons for Kilkenny. Likewise his breakthrough season of 2011.
The breakthrough, the start point, now that is a challenging place.
“When you start,” he says of getting into the county squad, “it takes over a lot if you are not in the right routine. You have to change your life. You go to the gym more often, focus more on the weak parts of your game. I never minded doing the running, but I wouldn’t have been used to doing the gym work.
“After a while it all becomes natural, a part of your life. The thing is, once you get into the routine you don’t see it as a commitment or sacrifice. You enjoy it. It is part of being an inter-county hurler. You will never get to the level of being chosen as an inter-county hurler unless you are in some sort of fitness routine anyway.
“You probably already have a strong commitment to the club or whatever. Obviously once you get into it, it takes up a big part of your life. It is more a routine than a sacrifice, however.”
On top of the three group training sessions with Kilkenny at the height of the season, Ryan would do two additional sessions on his own in the gym following a programme mapped out and supervised by trainer/coach, Michael Dempsey. Five sessions a week would be the norm for all.
“You do whatever else you need to keep yourself right,” Lester explains. “You might have a bit of rehab to do on an injury. The thing varies from week to week depending on what is coming up, a League or championship match.
“You think about preparations a lot. It is a greedy thing in a way. You are always thinking of the games; what you should be doing; what you can be doing, what you shouldn’t be doing.”
Socialising? Lester laughs. Was he big into films, fashion, theatre or whatever?
He laughs again, almost surprised at the query: “I think I am only into hurling really. When you have a night off you suddenly realise, hold on, I have nothing else to be doing anyway. It is only then you realise how much you are into it. I have never had a conflict where hurling cut across something that was more important.
“It is my life now. Obviously teaching is a massive part of it as well. They work well together, teaching and hurling.”
Away from the every day job in St Kieran’s College and hurling, he works around the farm with his father, Johnny in Dunbell, especially in the Summer months, helping with the milking of the cows or whatever. There is always something to be done there, he assures.
“What would you be doing if you weren’t hurling,” he continues when he takes charge of the conversation. “Hurling starts off as a pastime. You get enjoyment from playing, preparing for it. It never really felt that I would love to be doing anything else other than what I am doing. It become part of the routine of life.
“Some people would say you make this sacrifice and that sacrifice. At the end of day it is not a sacrifice if you like doing it. You want to do it. That has to be the first step.”
Ambition drives ambition!
“For me being involved with Kilkenny is huge. It is something you aspire to when you are young, if you are hurling. It is a massive achievement when you get in here first.
“Again, when you get in you realise it is only the start of it. You try and push on to make the team. Then you try and push on again to be one of the best players on the team. The standard of the players you are joining is of the highest quality.
“There is so much more to learn beyond being a club player. Sometimes you are doing things you have to instead of what you want to. The younger players coming in from clubs are fitter now.
“Clubs are more professional. The gap is still huge. When you come in there are big changes to be made, for example, with diet, the amount of gym work you must do.
”It’s not that you can’t close the gap, but you have to work hard,” the 26-year old insists.