There are so many photographs from Ireland’s triumphant Grand Slam win in Twickenham last year that will stay with Irish rugby fans for a long time to come.
Rory Best lifting the trophy with Johnny Sexton holding the Tripe Crown plate, players embracing their families and Ireland fans preparing themselves for the celebrations that were to come.
However, one photograph emerged of a seemingly more poignant moment that tugged on the heartstrings just as much.
That photo was of a lone Donnacha Ryan, sitting in the U Arena in Paris, soaking in the Irish win on a massive screen in front of him.
— Ultimate Rugby (@ultimaterugby) March 19, 2018
This was Ireland’s first major success since Ryan had departed the Irish scene for the French shores in 2017, much to the disappointment of Munster fans. To many, the photo represented his regret over what could have been.
Ryan laughs as he dismisses the notion that he was sitting there with a tissue, wiping a tear from his eye.
“My Dad sent me that, he sent it into our family WhatsApp group and was like, ‘what’s the quotation here’? And I was just like, ‘who the hell took that?’”
In fact, that week had been an emotional journey for him for a far different reason. His daughter, Remi, had been born four days prior to Ireland’s win.
“I rocked up to training on the Friday and I was told, ‘we’ll start you tomorrow.’ Now I had slept in the chair in the hospital for the week so I didn’t think I’d be involved at all.”
“So they put me on the bench. We were playing Stade Francais, I think we were losing at half-time. I was pretty tired. I actually had three coffees to wake myself up.
“It was fine anyway, we won the game, but I was drug-tested afterwards.”
Racing 92 had organised a party later that evening in the U Arena so that fans could come together to watch France’s final Six Nations game against Wales. To entice people to hang around, the Ireland-England game was shown on the big screen.
“I whipped out a chair to watch it. It was class. The only better view you could have was being at the game, or on the pitch. The third best view was where I was, big, massive screen and our pitch in front of us.”
Ryan was as delighted with the win as any other Irish fan and his Racing teammates were quick to congratulate him as though he had lifted the trophy himself. There was also special recognition for former player, Sexton.
“Johnny came off as a sub and he got a massive applause from everyone in our stadium because he was ex-Racing, everyone was delighted for him. So I sent him a text to let him know that they were all mad about him and he was happy to hear that.”
The former Munster man has no regrets about making the move to Paris in 2017, his body is able, his mindset is positive, and he is still a valuable asset to the team. The only downfall continues to be the language barrier, though that has subsided massively. Yet, a Tipperary accent and the French language don’t mesh together well.
“I’m still doing lessons three times a week. My accent is appalling!”
“When you’re on the pitch and you’re tired and you know that some lads don’t have a word of English and you’re trying to get a word across and you’re saying to yourself, ‘why can’t you read my mind?’”
“When you see the glaze across their eyes you know you’re speaking too fast! Or when I get off the phone from someone at home in Tipp and the accent’s a bit thick.”
Reunited with the big brother shkin Ryan 👌🏾
First game☑️🔵⚪️ pic.twitter.com/fhhfGehdmf
— Simon Zebo (@SimonZebo) July 28, 2018
“The only person I can speak fast to is Zeebs [Simon Zebo], and you think everyone understands what we’re saying but they actually don’t. They’ll be like, ‘sounds like the Irish boys are having a bit of fun!’ and we’ll actually be slagging someone.”
“On the pitch, I can hear Zeebs and I’m sure he’s the same as well, you know the Tipp accent. A lot of Irish people come to the games now which is great, you see the Irish flags and you always try and go over to say hello.”
Ryan turned 35 last December and despite a knee injury that has kept him out of action for the past two months, he has no intention of slowing up and is hoping to sign a contract extension with the Top 14 club very soon.
“I’m very happy there and the club are happy with me there. Hopefully all going well, hopefully, I’ll be back soon, all going good.”
Pictured are Donnacha Ryan & Annalise Murphy at the launch of the Bord Bia: Chicken, ‘Make It Your Way’ campaign. Bord Bia is on a mission to inspire the nation the spread their wings and try something new, with Quality Assured chicken as the key ingredient. Bordbia.ie/qualitychicken for more information.