Bill Ryan Laha
County Senior Hurling Final program, September 30, 1983
There are only two players left from the last team to win an All-Ireland football final for Tipperary They are Mick Tobin of Grangemockler and Bill Ryan of Laha. Bill is now eighty-nine years and lost his wife only recently. He played right-back most of his life on the team with the exception of one occasion against Sligo in an All-Ireland semi-final when he played centrefield. On the same day the Tipperary hurlers were beaten by Kilkenny. It was the 1922 championship played in 1923.
Bill was on the Tipperary team for twelve or thirteen years and won three Munster football medals! The other two were in 1918 when Wexford beat them in the final and 1920 when they went ahead to win their last All-Ireland football championship.
His first success was with Castleiney when he won a senior football medal in 1914 when they were combined with Templetuohy. The combination beat Nenagh Institute in the final at Thurles. There were only two drinking on the team. Bill recalls they were taken in to John Maher's after the match by some Gael and there were only two alcoholic drinks in the round. They were beaten in the county final in 1915. They didn't have the full team as some were injured and one of the players had a death in the family. They broke up with Templetuohy after that. A few went with Templemore. In 1925 they beat Fethard in the final at Carrick-On-Suir. Three years later they won the Mid but were beaten by Fethard in the final.
Bill remembers the Munster championship of 1918. Tipperary beat Cork and Waterford and met Kerry in the Munster final in the Cork Athletic Grounds. The result was 1-1 to 0-1 in favour of Tipperary. They beat Mayo by a point in the semi-final and trained at Dungarvan for the final, which wasn't played until February 1919. They spent two weeks in collective training. For the final they were missing three forwards, including Bill Barrett of the Commons, an uncle of Tommy's, because of flu. They got three fifties in the second half and failed to score. At full-time they were a point behind, five to four in favour of Wexford, who made it four-in-a-row on that day. Bill remembers that his Wexford opponent that day, Reynolds, was one of the most elusive players he ever came across.
Tipperary were beaten by Kerry in the 1919 Munster final but they reversed the result in 1920. They overcame Mayo by five points in the semi-final. The All-Ireland against Dublin was played in June 1922. The team trained in Mullinahone, staying in houses for the fortnight. Those from around the area went home at night. Every day there was a regimen of football, running and sprints. There was no compensation for being away from the farm. The final result was 1-6 to 1-2 in favour of Tipperary.
Bill has vivid memories of 'Bloody Sunday' in Novenber 1920. The occasion was a challenge match between Dublin and Tipperary to raise funds for the I.R.A. The team went up on Saturday evening. Bill got the train at Templemore. There were fourteen English soldiers on the train and there was nearly an incident between them and the players on the train. When the train arrived at Kingsbridge there was a large military presence and Bill and his fellow-players expected to be arrested on some pretext. Instead the soldiers were arrested. Seemingly, they had done some damage at the station at Templemore before leaving and the station-master had wired Dublin.
The players stayed at Barry's Hotel. When the team lined out on the Sunday, Mick Hogan was playing behind Bill. They had a discussion about changing positions because the Dublin corner-forward, Frank Burke, was a great forward and a bit of a handful for Hogan. However, they didn't change. Tipperary were defending the Canal End and the game was on about twelve minutes when the attack came. The soldiers came in at the Canal End and there was pandemonium when the firing started. The field also was surrounded because Bill made two attempts to get away and was turned back by the military on both occasions. Eventually, somebody gave him a coat and he made his way back to the hotel where the team had togged out. There was no score at the time of the military incursion and the match was replayed for a set of medals the following year and Tipperary won. Two other members of that team were shot later: Jackie Brett went with the column and was shot and Jim Egan got shot in the Civil War.
Bill was not a big man. In fact he was only 5' 8" and weighed only 11-8 at peak fitness. He relied on speed, which he had in abundance, and high fielding to make up for his physical limitations. The two best footballers he ever saw were Tommy Murphy of Laois and Larry Stanley of Kildare. Bill's I ife wasn't all football. He started hurling with the Clonmore junior team. Later he played with Templetuohy juniors and won a Mid final with them in 1923. He won another medal with Castleiney juniors in 1925 on a team that included, Martin Whelan of Toomevara, who was working on the Council in the area at the time. The team had to go senior as a result of this victory and Bill won a Mid senior medal with them in 1928. He stopped playing in 1932 when his knee went and became a club officer. Himself and Jim Ryan of Loughmore carried the team along for many years after that. Bill is eighty-nine years of age to-day and is still remarkably fit and lively. He's looking forward to a Loughmore-Castleiney victory today with as much enthusiasm as he did to his own great victory in the Mid Senior final in 1928.