WHEN Mary Ryan first ventured to UL to study Biomedical Engineering, winning an Ashbourne title was the stuff of dreams.

Fast forward to a cold, blustery Sunday in February 2019, and the UL senior camogie team have just given a camogie master class, capturing an impressive fourth consecutive Ashbourne Cup.

In a star studded squad full of youth and exuberance, it was 31 year old Ryan that anchored the defence; a pillar of strength and experience at full-back.

That Sunday the former Tipperary senior camogie captain collected her second Ashbourne medal, the first of which came last year, shortly after she began an MSc in Sports Performance.

When Ryan last donned a UL jersey, Ashbourne success was at a minimal for the Limerick based college but 11 years on, Ryan was blown away by the professionalism and equality of the UL set-up.

“It’s definitely changed in terms of professionalism. Now it’s the same as a county set-up, you have your gym sessions, conditioning sessions and meal plans and that kind of thing, but then a certain aspect of it has always stayed the same and I think that’s really nice about the Ashbourne; people come from all different clubs and counties but there is just a special atmosphere and great craic. Even the excitement in the build up to the weekend is the same as it was years ago.”

“No stone was left unturned there for the squad and even when they do fundraisers or anything, it’s the whole club together. Even in terms of booking pitches and that kind of thing there are no preferences for the men above the women.”

Off the pitch, Ryan currently works part-time as a biomedical engineer for Boston Scientific, a multi-national medical devices company. It’s evident from one conversation that Ryan enjoys her work; supporting the intricate development of cardiac rhythm and neurology products.

Traditionally and indeed presently, women are vastly underrepresented in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) field. In fact when Ryan began her undergraduate degree in UL over a decade ago, there was only two girls in her college course. But thankfully, times are beginning to change and Ryan is a big advocate for women to pursue a career in STEM.

“It has its challenges but as long as you’re getting involved in it and open to learning and being confident with it, you will enjoy yourself. Somewhere like where I am now, in Boston Scientific is very good, there is a good mix of men and women in engineering. I don’t think girls should be put off engineering by any means.”

Ryan has thoroughly enjoyed her career thus far both on and off the field of play. The Moneygal native is now entering her 15thseason as a Tipperary senior camogie player, and admits the game has evolved rapidly since she first linked up with the panel in 2005, and that evolution exposed Ryan to a world she found herself fascinated with, a world she decided she wanted to pursue further.

“In recent years our training has evolved in terms of strength and conditioning, nutrition and recovery so being involved in that as a player, I found I was extremely interested in it and I would always have been asking the trainers and coaches’ questions or even looking up stuff myself.”

Ryan was initially hesitant in pursuing the unknown and returning to full-time education, but now, coming to the end of her time in UL and close to completion of her masters, her advice to anyone considering a change is clear, go for it.

“I know that I worried about whether or not to do it for long enough myself and you would be worried about the challenges, even going back on campus or just the unknown of going back to college in general but I would always say go for it because even if it doesn’t work out, you are never going to know until you try it.”

“I’m not the only person that has ever done something like this and I have never spoken to anyone that regretted it, it’s worth giving it a go just to learn something different or to take a break from one thing to learn another.”

Ryan touches a number of times on the evolution of Camogie. Players are becoming fitter, faster and stronger but Ryan, like some of her fellow inter-county colleagues, feel players struggle to express themselves on match days the same way they can on the training ground.

“Something needs to be done to better improve the game. It’s the same with anything, be it Camogie or even outside of sport, things are always changing and evolving, it’s got static with the Camogie.”

“The standards of training have raised massively and we want the game to reflect the work that is being done in training in terms of conditioning and the speed and skill of the game and the elite factor of where the game is at.”

“People do have great respect for and awareness of the training level but you would love for people to see the absolute intensity and the speed and the skill that the games can be played at.”

Static though it may be, if players like Ryan continue to break the mould, it won’t be long before Camogie reaches its full potential.

Mary was speaking with Lisa Crowley for wgpa.ie.

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