A ’Keeper Recalls
by Colm Keane
A faded photograph with the legendary ‘Busby Babe’ Liam Whelan on one knee heading the ball while Bray Wanderers’ keeper Shay Ryan is flying through the air, pushing the ball over the crossbar, has sadly disappeared forever.
That historic black and white photograph – taken in 1953 at the Carlisle Grounds in a match between the legendary ‘Busby Babes’ of Manchester United and a Bray/Rathfarnam selection – was washed away in the muck following storm damage to Shay Ryan’s Dargle Valley home.
“It was a smashing photograph”; Shay Ryan told me this week. “I was thrilled I was playing against them. A mate of mine, Noel McFarlane, who lived in the town centre and grew up with me, had gone to United at the time and he was playing.
“There was also the famous Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman, Geoff Bent and Bill Whelan who had only just gone from Home Farm to United (all of whom died in the 1958 Munich crash). Wilf McGuinness (later to become Manchester United manager) also played that day, along with Ian Greaves. And they had a centre forward called Eddie Lewis, whose nickname was ‘Big Head’ Lewis. It was a great line-up.
“We were the only Irish team during that Manchester United’ Irish tour to keep the score to single figures. We lost 9-2 and, believe it or not, the hero of the day was myself in goal.
“I remember during the game’s final moments there was a penalty kick and my pal, Noel McFarlane, stepped up to take it. As he took his hands off the ball, he pointed to my left, his right-hand side.
“Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy were in the stand and I remember vividly the words that came down from the stand: ‘Remember, Noel, there’s no sentiment in football’. So, he sent the ball to my right and I went to my left. We were down one more goal.
“If I remember rightly, Duncan Edwards and Ian Greeves came back to Wicklow for a fortnight’s fishing holiday – and Wilf McGuinness as well.
“Sadly, a couple of years down the road many of them were dead at Munich”.
“Unfortunately, that photo of myself and Bill Whelan is gone forever. It was washed out in the storm just before Hurricane Charley and it isn’t in the archives anywhere. It was a photo I treasured most, especially with the Munich tragedy and the way it ended”.
Shay Ryan joined Bray Wanderers in 1952, as reserve to the regular ‘keeper Joe Sharkley. Aged 21 at the time, he had previously played with Dargle Rovers and TEK, and he soon forced his way into the Wanderers’ first team.
In the 1953/54 season, Shay participated in one of Bray Wanderers’ great and golden years, which included victory in the FAI Junior Cup and the AUL (Div 1) championship, while three Bray players – Jim Carrroll, Owen Carroll and Shay himself – won Junior international caps.
“My only international cap was against Scotland in Dens Park, Dundee. We were very unlucky. We were drawing one-all with about four or five minutes to go when Tom Fitzgerald, of the great Fitzgerald football family from Waterford, decided the game was safe and went upfield on a sortie. He lost the ball on the halfway line and Scotland scored. We were beaten two-one.
“I’ve always said that junior caps are the hardest to come by. You’ve got to prove yourself better than everybody in every village, every town, every borough, every city. To get to the top of that tree was very difficult. I was very honoured”.
Shay Ryan remained with Bray Wanderers for almost 10 seasons, winning numerous medals and trophies with probably the best junior side in the country. He also played alongside Alan Kelly and Andy McEvoy – two players who would achieve fame and fortune cross-channel and win numerous international caps.
“Alan Kelly was my substitute ‘keeper at Wanderers for about two years. Then, around the Christmas period in 1954, I got injured and Alan got in. I never got my place back that season. Ironically, my daughter Fiona is now married to Alan’s son, Gary Kelly, who plays in goal for Oldham. So, I suppose through Alan Kelly you could say I’ve taught Gary and his brother Alan Junior, all they know about the art of keeping goal”, Shay joked.
Today, Shay Ryan – who once turned down trials with Swansea and Bangor City – continues to live in Bray’s Dargle Valley with his wife Joan. “I still have my FAI Junior Cup medal, my Intermediate Cup medal, my Leinster Junior Cup and Bradmola Cup runners-up medals”, he told me. “But, more than anything else, I enjoyed my time with Bray and I have lots of memories”.
Award-winning broadcaster and writer, author of A Cut Above The Rest (Townhouse, 1999), as well as Tales of the Wanderers (Colado, 1998; this article is included in that volume) and More Tales of the Wanderers (Colado, 2000), together with other volumes based on his work for RTÉ Radio.
Copyright © Colm Keane 1998; all rights reserved, no re-publication without the author's permission