When you think of Paddy Ryan, you think of a hard-working, hard-hitting prop who you’d imagine was raised on a staple of meat and three veggies out in the bush and was one of those kids who started playing Rugby in the Under 6’s at the age of 3, simply because he was so keen to get on that his parents couldn’t stop him.
Well, you’d be half right, in that Tamworth born and raised Ryan is an exceptionally hard working and hard-hitting prop, who this week will become just the 55th player to reach 100 Super Rugby caps for Australian teams (and just the twelfth prop). However, one of the greatest influences on Paddy’s football career is a former Dutch representative soccer player, the sport he played himself until the age of ten as his mum Maria explains.
“Paddy’s uncles on his father’s side were good country Rugby players, and I have four brothers who were good Aussie Rules players in the bush,” Maria Ryan explains.
“His grandfather, who is now 86, was actually representative soccer player in Holland and Paddy didn’t actually play Rugby until he was ten.
“I was too nervous (for his safety) and made him play soccer and do Auskick as well. All he wanted to do was play Rugby, so he was probably the saddest ten-year-old goalkeeper in the North West!”
Ryan’s two Grandfathers have featured prominently in Paddy’s upbringing and subsequent success on the Rugby field, as have his mum, dad Nick and sisters, Gracie and Rose. Ryan is a family man, through and through.
“His ‘Opa’ (Dutch grandfather) figures prominently in Paddy’s life and has been a huge part of his career from his home in Victoria, taking a lot of pride in how Paddy’s playing and how he is scrummaging. His Australian grandfather has always followed Rugby as well and supported him immensely, and both of them have figured very heavily in Paddy’s Rugby pursuits. He is the eldest with two younger sisters, and they are very close. They were born quite close together, are all great mates and have always been like that.
“The girls pretty well despised Rugby initially and felt like they were being dragged from pillar to post to watch him play, but once they took a bit of an interest in a few nice fellas and realised there were some decent guys playing Rugby they were suddenly very happy to come to the games!
“When he was really little, my husband and his mates would be watching the Wallabies playing overseas in the middle of the night and Paddy was always keen to stay up and talk about the game with the men. The noise of the drinkers probably woke him up, but he’s always loved family and as a family we’ve always encouraged that.”
Ryan attended boarding school in Sydney at famed Rugby nursery St. Joseph’s College, where his schoolmates in the 2007 Australian Schoolboys side to tour New Zealand and Fiji included Kurtley Beale and Peter Betham, with Nathan Charles, Quade Cooper, Rod Davies, Rob Horne, Ben McCalman and Rob Simmons the other future Wallabies in the squad.
After finishing high school, Paddy decided to forego the instant opportunities that national schoolboy selection presented and itself continue some personal development on the other side of the world.
“Paddy was determined to head to Ireland for a twelve-month Gap Year, working at a Jesuit School in Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare,” Maria explains. “A lot of people warned him that he would miss out on a lot of good Rugby opportunities, but he was determined to do it and he upped sticks to Ireland where he played local Rugby.
“I think a lot of the players had a pie and a cigarette at half time, so it wasn’t the highest standard, but he also coached some of the grade teams at the school and had this amazing year.
“With the name of Paddy Ryan, he was able to completely immerse himself in the Irish culture and I don’t think I need to elaborate too much on that! He did cut his mullet off before he came home but couldn’t bring his 130kg weight down.”
Upon return, Ryan started studying at Sydney University and playing Rugby for the famous Club and four years later, at the age of 23, he made his Super Rugby debut for the Waratahs. Now, just seven years later, he joins the illustrious RUPA Centurions Club, and Maria believes that the friendships he has made along the way are one of the greatest things he’ll take away from the game.
“Paddo loved his Rugby but really didn’t know where it might go, so when he got that phone call from the Waratahs he was just so elated and was pinching himself,” Maria recalls. “He really wanted to pursue his Rugby, and I’d told him to have a go because you don’t want to die wondering.
“He played with Kurtley through school, and they’ve been great mates through boarding school and beyond, and he’s close friends with Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps. Benn Robinson has been a fantastic friend and mentor, he really enjoyed playing with Taf (Tatafu Polota-Nau) and he’s loved having Fitzy (Damien Fitzpatrick) back at the Waratahs; they were at school together and Fitzy is just such a lovely guy.
“He has loved having Rob Simmons there this year, and Dave Dennis and Dean Mumm were great mentors for him too when he was first starting out. Sam Carter was his comrade in crime when they lived together in the Sydney Uni days, and he just played his 100th game for the Brumbies last week, but in general he has surrounded himself with wonderful people who do a great job at reminding him to keep his two feet on the ground. His Dutch blood can make Paddy a pretty passionate and fortnight European at times, but these guys help keep him in check!”
As one of Australia’s most passionate advocates for Country Rugby, Paddy devotes a great deal of time to travelling throughout the state of New South Wales to spread the gospel, and there is one lesson from his childhood that Maria says he always keeps front of mind.
“When Paddy was growing up we were friends with Al Baxter’s auntie, and she ended up organising some rep gear from Al when he was a teenager – it just meant the world to him.
“Now, he always gives away all of his kit to kids at the end of the season; socks, jerseys, whatever he can. Whenever he comes home to Tamworth he makes sure that the local Development Officers have some of the kit, or he gives it away personally when he’s at country Rugby games. Kids love that sort of stuff and he remembers loving it himself, so it’s important for him to carry on the tradition.”
Ahead of Paddy’s 100th Super Rugby game, against the Blues at Brookvale Oval on Saturday, Maria said that she and the entire Ryan clan were exceptionally proud of their son and his achievements.
“I want to encourage him to continue to follow his dreams and stay passionate,” she says when I ask what message she’d like to pass on. “I’d also like to give a big shutout to all the other parents that provide so much support and go through all the highs and lows throughout their child’s playing career, because its an enormous commitment and sacrifice, but it’s absolutely worth it.
“I think he will really relish the game at Brookvale and make the most of another fantastic milestone. To be one of just 55 players to achieve this milestone is something he would see as incredibly special, and he would feel very privileged, because that’s the kind of person he is.”
From the roots of a Dutch goalkeeper and some classic country Rugby bloodlines has come Paddy Ryan; loyal, committed, and a wonderful exponent of the dark arts of scrummaging. Congratulations, Paddy, on joining the Centurions Club.
Other Props in the Centurions Club: Ben Alexander, Al Baxter, Pek Cowan, Matt Dunning, Nic Henderson, Greg Holmes, Sekope Kepu, Benn Robinson, James Slipper, Laurie Weeks, Bill Young
Paddy Ryan Fact File:
Born: Tamworth, 9th August 1988
Super Rugby Caps: 99, 3 tries
Super Rugby Debut: Round 7, 2011, vs. Chiefs (23-16 win)
Wallaby Caps: 3
NRC Caps: 24, 3 tries