After a successful first week back in school, Limerick Ladies footballer Amy Ryan says she is now focusing on making a return to inter-county action.
Training can resume for Donal Ryan's county team on Monday week, and 26 weeks on from their last outing, Amy says she cannot wait to link up with the panel once more.
With her boys, Billy (9) and Tommy (6), both back to school in Doon this week, there has been a turn towards normal again, but stepping back into her role as a special needs assistant at St Paul’s School in Limerick City came as a huge relief to everyone.
"There were a lot of anxious parents, a lot of emails and messages last week. You can’t blame them either, it is very unknown territory for everyone. But the first few days back have been so calm," said Ryan, who plays her club football with Oola.
"I work in a slightly different side of it seeing as I’m a special needs assistant in the primary school. I work with some disadvantaged children from different backgrounds and they may not have had the same experience in lockdown as a lot of other kids.
"There are nearly 700 children in our school, so at the moment all the classes are staggered. That’s working really, really well and the kids seem very happy too. The parents seem to be comfortable with the measures that we have put in place.
"We have a brand new school too that we only moved into last September. As a result we have loads of space, proper ventilation and good classroom sizes. It makes things so much easier. Hopefully things will stay this way."
As a special needs assistant, Ryan is responsible for helping children with a variety of learning, physical or behavioural difficulties. When the lockdown came in early March it was a particularly worrying time for her students and their parents, but after a quick recalibration, she says they all managed well in isolation.
"We closed on Thursday 5 March and I remember at the time it was manic. Nobody knew what was happening, there was a bit of a panic.
"But we got online pretty quickly and did a few Zoom classes. The SEN (special educational needs) children and the children with difficulties were all taken care of in different group sessions.
"They loved it, it was great for them to have a routine every week. It took a bit of getting used to at the start, talking to a laptop and seeing all the faces was strange for some of them, but we had a great set-up and guidance from the school.
"Even though they mightn’t have got some of their work done, that wasn’t the be all and end all – it was all about maintaining that social contact and keeping some routine for them."
While her professional life was turned upside down with lockdown, Ryan footballing career took a turn for the good. Named captain of her club Oola, training progressed well and for Ryan – who turned 30 in May – memories of recent months are all positive.
Living at home with her family and brother Pat – who plays for John Kiely’s Limerick hurlers – Amy had a familiar training partner, but the last six months of effort all rides on next Tuesday’s Intermediate quarter-final against Fr Casey’s.
"Football wise, I felt the first few weeks and months of lockdown were the easiest. I live out the countryside in Doon so we have loads of space around to do our training.
"But you’d still be itching to get back on the field with the girls. It did get harder as time went on and you hit a lull. There were days there I didn’t feel like doing anything, but that’s probably your body telling you to take a rest.
"We are back with Oola for the bones of two months now and we have a county quarter-final on next Tuesday. We are gunning to win that one, please God.
"This year the club format gave everyone a good chance. It wasn’t do or die in your first game, which is great. We have had over 30 girls at every training session since we got back, so the hunger is massive and it’s great to see. That has been kept up for the last two months. The vibe and mood in the camp is really good, so hopefully we can get over the line and reach a semi-final.
"We are very fortunate to have such an amazing management team and club structure in Oola. We all owe a great debt of gratitude to our manager Richard Bowles for the selfless work and countless hours he has put in behind the scenes for years. His continuous support and motivation is what drives us on"
As a 28-year-old inter-county debutant, Amy admits she found the step from club to Junior grade at inter-county level a huge test. Winning the TG4 Junior All-Ireland in her first year meant another graduation to Intermediate in 2019, and while things didn’t go as planned last year, there is a real belief that the Treaty county will be challengers at Junior in the coming months, where they are paired against Antrim and Derry.
"It has been a long, long time away from the county game, but I feel we are flying it with the club. Training is going really well for us. I do a lot of work in between those sessions as well, so mentally I feel like I am ready to come back into county in good shape.
"I definitely think having the club back first this year was massive. If you were going from the break straight into county it would have been very tough, but the club has really pushed us along.
"It will take a while to get back in the groove with the county as well and we’ll see where we are, but I’m very, very positive that we will have an inter-county championship to look forward to."
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