As Clann Eireann prepare to face their stiffest test of the season against Whitecross in the Intermediate Championship final on Sunday at the Athletic Grounds, Ryan Henderson says his team can handle the pressure which has been heaped on his side from some quarters following their comfortable semi-final win over Madden.
The former Irish League footballer who had spells with Linfield and Donegal Celtic is focusing on his new role with Clann Eireann which has transformed him from front man, to link man.
Henderson didn’t dispute the fact that during his career he had been described as “enigmatic.”
A lot of things were said about Ryan Henderson when he bagged for goals against Wexford in the National Football League in the winter of 2009, the Clanns player burst into the limelight with his salvo which signalled a league debut and national headlines, but an expected rise to stardom didn’t materialise, looking back Ryan said,
“I don’t think the manager got the best out of me at that time. I was continuously looking over my shoulder and expecting to be taken off which had an effect. Would I have been better under some one like Kieran McGeeney ? I don’t know, but ‘Geeser’ seems to be able to get the best out of players.”
There however can be no going back to County football suggested the Clanns playmaker.
“My focus is solely on my club and Sunday’s final even if a county boss thought I was good enough to even train with Armagh, family commitments would out weigh any suggestions of ever returning to county football,” added Ryan.
At 26, the former St. Michael’s schoolboy star reached a pinnacle in the Irish League when moving from Donegal Celtic to Linfield, and the Lurgan man still has fond memories of his former managers particularly David Jeffrey.
Ryan said, “David was an imposing figure, but very fair. When I was fit I started for Linfield, but during my time at Windsor Park I was out a lot with one particular injury which certainly didn’t help.
“I have stepped back from the soccer scene to concentrate on Clann Eireann and when you see the effort our managers are putting in week in and week out you have to respect that and give training and games your best shot.”
Henderson, who is currently employed by his club in a more withdrawn role, stated he is enjoying playing more than ever.
“When I was playing up front there was always that added bit of pressure. If you were not scoring you always felt you were letting the side down. To be honest I am enjoying chasing back, winning tackles and creating openings. We have some great young players at the minute and there is always a runner coming off your shoulder, it’s always nice to chip in with the odd point here and there, but to be involved in the build ups is very satisfying.”
While some pundits spotted the potential of the current Clann Eireann side before they landed this seasons Division 2 title, Ryan believes the arrival of new boss Kieran Robinson has made the difference. The Lake Street side despite getting off to a slow start last year finished strongly to gain a top four slot under player manager Mark Beattie, but with the big midfielder who could well be his clubs longest serving player of modern times now concentrating solely on playing, the Clanns are reaping the benefits .
“Mark would tell you himself how difficult it was to manage and play at the same time,” added Ryan.
“This year with Kieran in the management post Mark is free to do what he does best, he just wants to play for Clann Eireann and that shows every time he pulls on the jersey.”
Ryan will be surrounded by a wealth of youth and experience when he lines out on Sunday , some of the young players like Adam Kelly, Johnny Tarode, James Magee and James McDade have enhanced an already talented side. He will also be playing alongside his cousins namely Paul McKenna and team captain Conor Bell, which he says is a bit special
“It’s great to play with the lads, Conor has been in good form all season and although Paul had been carrying an injury he will be available for the final. To be honest all the players in the squad are very close, we all bond well, the hard training has been done but I believe we will need to step up a couple of gears to beat a very strong Whitecross outfit.”