THEN – Tony played once for Leinster against Scarlets in 2015.

NOW – He lives with his fiance Laura in Stillorgan, working as a Business Sales Executive for Fannin Ltd.

Saturday, February 21st, 2015.

Leinster forwards coach Leo Cullen came along to have a look at Clontarf props Royce Burke-Flynn and Iain Hirst play against Terenure at Castle Avenue in the All-Ireland League.

He stayed to ask one question: ‘who is your number eight?’

Cullen was scouting the AIL for players that could step in when the bulk of the first-team squad would be preparing for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Ryan had been beavering away in the South-East area team, had made the Leinster Youths and had been on the Leinster U19s squad.

This was the apprenticeship to joining his home club Enniscorthy’s first team for two years, being central to the Provincial Towns Cup win in 2012.

“Leo came to look at the two other lads, not me. I didn’t know anything about it. It was probably better that way. It escalated from there,” says Tony.

“He wanted to know if I would be interested in coming in for pre-season that summer. It was ideal for me as I was just finishing my four-year degree in Analytical Science at DCU.

“I was shocked that he wanted me to come in. I didn’t even know Leinster looked at the AIL for players.

“I went in for an initial meeting with Leo. He brought me around the complex. He was introducing me to guys like Dominic Ryan, Isa Nacewa.

“I was a Leinster supporter. All of a sudden, I am going to be in training with these guys. I just remember feeling, ‘what am I doing in here?’”

Four months later, Enniscorthy’s Tony Ryan reported for pre-season at Leinster Rugby, harbouring a lot of questions that needed answers.

“For some reason, you feel like an imposter. They don’t see you like that. They just see another lad coming in.

“But, you are thinking ‘will I be up to the mark physically? How will my skills hold up?’ I was very nervous.”

However, the Clontarf contingent was strong, Mick McGrath, Burke-Flynn, Hirst, Bryan Byrne, Mick Kearney, providing familiar faces to ease the nerves.

“It was like the first day of any job. You don’t know where to go, what to do. Everyone had a locker with their name on it. I didn’t have a locker or even a seat.

“All the Ireland internationals weren’t there, so I was sitting wherever lads weren’t sitting. I had no kit, no gear. I was just there on a two-month contract and could have been gone in eight weeks.”

There was a fine system in place for those without the proper attire. Tony was scrambling. Mick McGrath was giving the new recruit gear and Kevin McLaughlin was handing him socks, shorts and a jersey.

“I was also concerned about the training load. It was a shock to the system, two sessions a day, eating all the time, resting, recovering, and sleeping. I would be wrecked,” he said.

“I found I had to eat a lot of food to keep on the weight rather than put it on. The hardest thing to deal with was the skill and speed at which training was done, learning it all on the fly.

“You were given a little grace at the start for making mistakes, but pretty soon, it just wasn’t good enough.”

The expectation to pick up in a short number of weeks what others had been given the length of an Academy contract to master made every day a pressure-cooker.

“I would be a nervous player before matches whether it is an AIL final or a pre-season friendly. That is just the way I am,” he says.

“Every day going into Leinster, I would be nervous of messing up, feeling every mistake is noticed and every move is assessed. I knew I had two months. But, I wanted to impress to be kept on for the entire season.”

At the end of two months, Leo offered a one-month rolling contract which lasted into the New Year.

In that time, Tony managed to secure his one and only cap against Scarlets in a back row with Josh van der Flier and Dominic Ryan on October 16th, 2015.

“I actually remember the whole week even, coming back from my friend’s stag party at home on the weekend to go training on the Monday.

“You know the team is based on the team called out for training on Monday. It was called out and I was in it. James Tracy came up to me.

“He said: ‘I think that means you are in for the Scarlets. ”

“I said: “oh, f&*k!.’”

It began to dawn on Tony through the week that he was going to be involved, settling for a place on the bench.

“We flew over the night before and we had to wait around all day for a night game. I’m nervous at the best of times.

“But, when the time comes to go on, that is when the nerves leave you. You’re not shocked or anything like that.”

It couldn’t have gone much better, the first touch turned into an offload to Noel Reid and a try for Isa Nacewa.

“Even though we lost, I was buzzing because I made an impact when I came on and I knew the opportunities to play for Leinster’s first team were few and far between.

“As a professional, even for me now still playing for Clontarf, if I don’t play well on Saturday, it eats me up all week until I play again.

“It was my first cap and I felt I performed under the pressure of a one-month rolling contract. I was delighted with myself.

That night, Dan Leavy was eight, Josh van der Flier was seven and Dominic Ryan was six. That’s with all the Leinster loose forwards players away for the World Cup.

Jamie Heaslip, Jordi Murphy, Rhys Ruddock and Jack Conan would all return to remove any chance of Tony adding to his cap.

“That is how difficult it was to get into the team.”.

“I had been in there for over four months and this is when it became really intimidating. These guys I had been watching on television started to appear and Sean O’Brien is my favourite player of all-time.”

Even then, Leinster respected Tony’s game enough to keep playing him for Leinster A at a time when he turned down a professional contract to play in England.

There was an offer on the table from Rotherham to join the Championship club, amounting to £16,000 for the season. No match fees. No accommodation.

Still thriving at Clontarf, he is a decorated veteran with three All-Ireland League medals in 2014, 2016 and 2022.

“I absolutely loved my time at Leinster. I was disappointed it was all over. I look back on it now and feel I did as well as I could from the opportunities I got. I would have preferred to stay a professional. The right opportunity just never came my way.”

“I was also anxious to get going in my career,” he says.

Tony’s memories of playing there for the Leinster A’s didn’t make the decision any harder. There was no way he was going to forego his career.

For the last five years, Tony has worked as a Business Sales Executive for medical devices company Fannin Ltd, finding a familiar crossover in some aspects of his job.

“When you play rugby, you have a good grasp of discipline and working in a team environment,” he adds.

“When you play, you have a performance expectation. The same goes for work. You always have to perform. My work is in sales. There are a lot of targets and results to be met.

“Outside that, there is the social element that is required for rugby and in sales. You have to be able to relate to people.”