When Covid-19 restrictions first entered our lives just over a year ago, life took on a pace that was unrecogisable for so many.
For Laurie Ryan, it was no different as a hectic schedule of college, family and sporting commitments came to something of a crashing halt.
The former Clare ladies football captain found herself with hours to spare in the day for the first time in years as she isolated in Ennis with her grandmother Rita Ryan when the Covid crisis struck.
Up to March 2020, her life had centered around working to get her PhD completed while also juggling her considerable sporting commitments with county and college teams. She was ready to take that next step in her career with a job as a Public Engagement and Projects Officer in the University of Limerick having been secured in January. Lockdown meant that working from home was the new normal, but she feels the time that the slower pace of life created was welcome to have.
“When everything stopped, I think I got more of an appreciation for having some down time, which is something I hadn’t much of over the last few years. It was nice to able to just sit down and relax, and while you would miss it at times, it gave me a much more rounded outlook on how life could be. From March to August I was working for UL and working from home. I was living in Ennis with my Nana and we pretty much cocooned for that entire period. It meant that I was always there for her and that she was not alone. My mother dropped our food to the door so we were well looked after. We weren’t going anywhere and it was nice to have so much time with her. Now that I am away from home again, I appreciate that time we had so much more. I was really lucky to have so much quality time with her and then when I needed to get work done, I could go up to my room. I would say she is cracking up now without the company at the moment and I am obviously not getting to see her as much as I would like, but we do still have our five phone calls a day” she laughed.
The reason she is now living away is that she is employed by Athlone Institute of Technology, where she works in the sports department as science lecturer. Her work involves teaching in the areas of sports science, nutrition and athletic rehabiliation, a role she describes herself as being “extremely lucky” to have secured.
The move to Athlone has also seen her embark on another chapter in her already brilliant sporting career, as she harks back to her youth with a return to playing soccer. The former Lifford ladies player has been signed by Athlone Town AFC for the upcoming Women’s League of Ireland campaign, which gets underway at the end of March.
“It has been a long time since I was involved in soccer because I had always committed so much to football. Soccer was my first sport at underage level but over time I drifted towards football and just kind of stayed with it. The opportunity came about a month ago to have a trial with Athlone, and the way we looked at it was that they would see if I was good enough, and I would see if I enjoyed it and wanted to commit. It felt so natural once I got into it so I stayed involved. There is a really good set up there and I am really liking it so far. It is not too far from where I am living so there is no travel involved for training. There is also a sense that we are so priviliged to be able to play sport at the moment. We say that a lot as a group and we know the responsibility we have to not do anything stupid to ruin it. We follow all the protocols and do what has to be done, and it is brilliant to be able to get out and have those collective sessions” she noted.
While her soccer career has been revived, the decision to step away from the Clare ladies set up for the 2020 campaign is one that she insists was not taken lightly. Her looming PhD commitments meant that a call had to be made, and she explained that it was something of a crossroads moment in her life, as she watched her former county team mates go all the way to the All Ireland semi-final.
“It really was a tough decision. I had played for 10 years without a break for Clare and I was captain for the last five of those. Stepping away from it felt like taking a huge chunk of my life away, but sometimes you have to do what is best for you in a particular moment. I felt that I needed that break away from it to allow me to focus on my career. It was something that I probably neglected at times in order to give my all to Clare so it was a tough one. It was hard to watch on and see how well they were doing. It was amazing for the girls but it did make it that bit harder to be missing out on it. At the same time, I have no regrets because I am in a really good job now that I love. Five years ago, if you had asked me to miss college in order to go training, I would have done it without a bother. You don’t see the cons of it when you are in the middle of it because that is what you are committed to. As you get older, decisions get harder and you have to think more long term. I had reached a point where I had given up a lot in my personal life to play football so it was a case of putting myself first for a year and seeing how I got on. I think I am reaping the rewards from that now” she said.
She is not closing the door on a potential return to the county jersey just yet and is quick to point out that she feels she has a “few good years left in me yet”. There was still success for her to celebrate in 2020, as Banner Ladies regained their county title with victory in the Clare senior decider. Ryan outlined her view that one of the positives that came from the reshuffled year was that the club season ran uninterrupted, a structure she feels should be retained in the future.
“Everyone that I have spoken to at county level said they loved having that time with the club. It was so different to be able to fully immerse yourself in the season and be there for everything. We all appreciated it so much more and really bought into it. You could tell how much everyone was enjoying it and there was no pressure on players to miss club training because of county commitments. There might be a lot to take away from that and learn from it, and it looks as if it might be happening again this season. It was one of the nicest seasons we have had as a club because we were so unified” she stated.
She is also thankfully recovered from a concussion injury which saw her sidelined for months on end in 2019, with that road to recovery being a tough one to travel. She laughs that she might still be nervous when contesting headers in her new sporting role, but is hopeful that will settle as the weeks go on.
“It is nearly two years ago now since it happened and I am perfect again. It is the type of injury that people don’t still really understand. If I had not gone to the physios and specialists, I would still not be right after it. It is a tough injury because no one really gets it. No matter how many times I would tell you how I felt, you still wouldn’t know until you go through it. I never fully appreciated how serious it is until it happened to me. The GAA Welfare committee are pushing it a lot and trying to create awareness around it but it really is a big task. There are so many small clubs and so many people to try and educate on it. A similar injury happened to a clubmate of mine, and management were able to take her off straight away. The scary thing is that it was more that they were able to make that call because of my experience with concussion, rather than anyone spotting that she was actually concussed. There is a lot of work being done with it but it is really is a major undertaking” she acknowledged.