Former chairman Tony O’Kane has spoken of his immense pride at seeing his grandson Ryan sign a professional contract with his beloved Dundalk FC.
The 17-year-old last week put pen to paper on a three year deal at Oriel Park having impressed Filippo Giovagnoli and his team during pre-season training.
While undoubtedly more one for the future rather than the present, it is a significant step in the career of the St Mary’s College student.
Having played at schoolboy level for Bellurgan Utd, Ryan showed his undoubted talent after being named the SuperCup NI’s Junior Player of the Tournament in 2018 for his performances for the Dundalk Schoolboys’ League representative side.
He would later go on to make his NIFL Premiership debut for Warrenpoint Town under current Dundalk FC academy manager Stephen McDonnell at just 15-years-old in August 2019.
Now he is back at his hometown club following a brief spell at Cliftonville, much to his family’s delight.
Ryan was less than nine months old when grandfather Tony became chairman of the Oriel Park club on May 1st 2004, bringing the Trevor Anderson era to an end on his first day at the helm.
A lifelong supporter of the club having been first brought to Oriel Park by his own father back in 1952, Tony told The Argus he was on cloud nine at the prospect of seeing his grandson one day pulling on the famous Lilywhite jersey.
“That would be something special,” he beamed.
“We can’t believe it. As a family we’re all just thrilled.
“It’s amazing how things fall into place. The big break that he got was Stephen McDonnell coming back to the club because Stephen had managed him at Warrenpoint and he knew about Ryan. The minute Stephen came back he was on to Barry and Joanne (Ryan’s parents) straight away to find out what Ryan was doing.
“He was on amateur forms with Cliftonville so when Stephen said he wanted to bring him back to the club, Ryan was delighted. Then when the forms came through from Cliftonville he told him to come up for training one Monday. Ryan thought that he would be training with the U-17s or the U-19s but he said no you’re going in with the first team and he has been there for three weeks now.
“He rings me every day when he comes home and he’s just buzzing. The players have taken greatly to him and Chris Shields was very good to him in the beginning, introducing him to all the players and getting him settled. He’s just loving it.”
Tony said he had no doubt that the winger would now put in the hard work to ensure he is knocking on the door for a first-team place in the years to come.
“He’s only 17. He’s not 18 until August so he has a bit to go but he’s a great guy. You’d never have to ask him to do anything football-wise, he just adores playing it. He’s at his happiest when he has a ball with him.
“His best asset is just being on the ball. He can really beat a man very quickly. That’s his best asset for me. He can dip the shoulder one way and then go the other way before you know it. He’d be difficult to mark in a one to one.
“Barry has a big garden where he lives up in Gibstown and from he was 10 years of age he’s had two goals in the garden and Barry bought all the stuff for him, including a wall to practice his free kicks and all that sort of stuff. He worked with him on his weaker foot for I don’t know how many weeks to get him using the other foot and the benefit of that is he’s now very good with his two feet.
“One of the things that probably went against him in recent years was that he was so small. Like I’ve been looking at photos of him when he got the award in the Milk Cup and he’s just a different guy now.
“He has sprung up in the last year. He just took a massive leap. He just grew up all of a sudden and he’ll get strength and conditioning training now to bring him on further.”
While time is on the Leaving Cert student’s side to make a breakthrough at Oriel Park, a number of injuries to first-team players at present means that a cameo in the friendly against Bohemians at Oriel Park this Friday (kick-off 12 noon) is a possibility.
“You never know,” said Tony, “but no matter what the family are just delighted.
“Giuseppe and Filippo apparently love him and have been giving him great praise.
“He loves it. He can’t wait to get in every day. He has loads of time on his side but he is loving training with Dundalk because he feels these are the best players in the league and they’ve all taken him under his wing. He just can’t believe his luck.
“I said to him it’s a challenge for you. You have the opportunity now so take it by the horns and do your very best and that’s all he can do,” said Tony.