Dominic Ryan first came to my attention in the U20 World Cup, when he played alongside captain Rhys Ruddock in the backrow. I remember thinking Ruddock, due to his frame and power, would grab the headlines, but I remember thinking Ryan was a fantastic footballer at openside.
Fast forward seven years, and believe it or not, Ryan is a senior member of the Leinster team, which he realised while looking at a teamsheet:
“I think I was the second most-capped player in the squad behind Isa (Nacewa),” said Ryan yesterday.
“I never (thought about it) you just go out on the pitch and just play and talk to myself. Maybe that’s been the reason why, over the past six or eight months, I play more of a leadership role in the squad.
“You’ve got a lot of young guys in the team, who maybe are looking for leadership – because I have 100 caps or whatever I’ve played. That was the case when I was a young guy. You’d always have the likes of Jenno in the team, who’d be the older maybe non-international player, who’s always there providing leadership.
If things are going wrong on the pitch, or defensively getting lads sorted. I suppose, my role changed in terms of: ‘I’m not on the pitch to just make tackles and carry’.”
This senior player mindset isn’t a new phenomenon. If you look at the Leinster team, it is littered with players who have been there and done that. But what niggles Ryan is how little rugby he is playing even though he has amassed 100 caps. Asked if he has ever considered leaving the province, his answer may not be liked by the Leinster faithful:
“Oh I have, yes, I have,” the flanker told the hoard of microphones in front of him.
“You talk to the coaches about it, keep it to yourself, talk to fellow players about it. Maybe you’re not playing because you are not good enough. Sometimes it is down to yourself, am I playing well enough to get picked? Sometimes you might be to blame yourself.
“It’s a luxury for Leinster that they have so many quality back rows. It’s a pain for players, but you’ve grown up in Leinster and your whole life, you’ve dreamed of playing for Leinster.
“What am I, six seasons now at it? Yeah, it might be an option in the future, but I’m contracted for next season (to 2017) so I just have that in mind and whatever happens after that we’ll see.
“It’s important to get a run of games. It’s tough to try and get into a rhythm when you’re playing 20 minutes off the bench. Then you start a game and you mightn’t play the next weekend, then you might be benching the weekend after that. Regular game time is important for me mentally as well as physically.
“I’ve had a good run now that the lads are away at the Six Nations, so hopefully I’ll keep it up.”
Second place Leinster face table leaders Connacht in the Sportsground this weekend, and will look to grind out a win to continue their rise in the league. But it seems Ryan will have extra motivation.
Sean O’Brien will be soon returning from injury and looking to earn a spot on the plane to South Africa in a backrow who already delivered in the Six Nations. Rhys Ruddock will also be vying for a place in the squad. Even new boy Van Der Flier is ahead of him in the pecking order.
Ryan is a team player; in his mind, Leinster comes first. But given he is looking for an opportunity to join the rest of the Irish squad at Dublin airport this summer, he will have the bit between his teeth to impress.