This article was published in the Official Dunfermline Athletic Football Club Match-Day Programme on Saturday 13th January 2018, against Dundee United.
Thanks to DAFC for allowing me to post my interview onto my website.
Despite making nearly 200 career appearances to date, Andy Ryan has been a frustrated figure throughout most of his seven seasons in senior football so far. Now, with a young child and an abundance of confidence, the 23-year-old hopes to continuing doing what he does best – scoring goals.
In similar fashion to many of the stories we have featured so far this season, Andy is another example of a player who has grown into his position rather than always being a natural in that role.
“When I was growing up and at school, whether it was during ‘play time’ or after we had finished for the day, I continually had a ball at my feet. I would always play football in my house, out in the back garden, out in the street with my friends, so it has always been a big part of my life. It was my grandad who took me for a trial with the local team down at the sports centre and everything has just grown from there. I was playing with my local boys club when one of my managers – George Cairns – was also coaching at Hamilton and I joined them when I was 10 years old. I was there for nearly 10 years so it is a club I have always grew up playing with and who gave me my chance to play senior football.
I went through a wee phase where I was a goalkeeper! Then, one of our games got called off one day so we had a wee kick-about and I ended up playing left-back. I played there for a while before I continually worked my way up the pitch. I was always good at scoring goals so I ended up playing a lot of centre-forward. As you get older though, and you work your way up the ranks to reach the Under-19’s, the Reserves and then the First-Team, it all becomes a lot harder as you are playing against men, basically, so, goal-scoring was a part of my game I had to improve on and I am still trying to do that right now.”
When Ryan was working his way through the Accies youth system, players such as Brian Easton, James McArthur and James McCarthy were prospering at New Douglas Park, before they eventually made their moves to English clubs.
“When they were playing in the first-team, I was actually a ball-boy for Hamilton so I got to see them strut their stuff nearly every week, close-up. It was like getting first-hand experience as whatever you saw them do, you’d try it yourself when you were next at a training session as you want to be the best and you always knew if you were good enough, you’d get a chance with the club. There is no doubt that it is probably one of thee, if not the, smallest club in the Scottish Premiership, but, it is renowned for it’s youth system and their philosophy of “it doesn’t matter what age you are”; if you are good enough, you are old enough. I was lucky enough to make my debut when I was 16: I got a good run in the first-team under Billy Reid and that is what I enjoyed – I knew if I kept my head down and worked hard, I would get my opportunity.”
Only weeks after his birthday, the striker made his senior debut in the SFL Challenge Cup Semi-Final against Livingston.
“Everything just went smoothly from pre-season, to be honest. I would start off just training 2 or 3 days a week with the first-team if they needed additional numbers and things like that, but, I think what helped was that I had performed well during pre-season and I was doing well in training, which I guess must have impressed the management team. Then, on the Thursday before the Livingston match, Billy Reid pulled me aside and told me I was going to be starting on the Saturday, so he gave me a few days to prepare for my debut mentally! Some people get nervous in these situations but I just relished the opportunity to do what I love doing, which is playing football. I think by finding out on the Thursday, it did give me a few days to get ready for the match compared to if I had turned up to the stadium and had just been thrown right into the deep-end: it was good man-management, in my opinion, as he realised I was just a young kid at 16 and I was about to make my senior debut so it was nice of him to give me the heads-up beforehand. It was a good 1-0 win we had at home and it is almost a blur to me now – it is one of they moments where one second you are on the pitch and before you know it, it is all over. The match goes in so fast as you are working hard and enjoying yourself.
I fell-out the team a little bit which was frustrating as I had gotten a taste of playing for the first-team by then, but, it just makes you stronger as you become more determined and strive further to win your place back. I remember my first goal in senior football, too; I came on late against Dundee, I am sure it was the left-back who went off, and it was just a ball into the box and then a shot which hit the crossbar…the ball fell to me 3 or 4 yards out and I put it in with my left foot. However, after we equalised, I ended up getting put back to left-back as I had just replaced him so I was playing in defence for the remainder of the game! It was great to get my first goal, it is something I dreamt of as a kid.”
The spotlight was on Ryan with a string of good performances and goals by the then teenager.
“The media stuff, it was something completely new to me at the time. It is something you need to learn about as you go along in your career as it is just part-and-parcel of being a professional football player. Having scored that goal, it gave me a boost in confidence and a wee lift to kick-on again. As I said, I try to go into matches with the mindset “if I get a chance, I will score” – that isn’t me being arrogant, I am just preparing myself mentally for my next challenge. Then, I got named SFL Young Player of the Month for February and it was all a bit surreal – everything had happened quite fast and I found it a lot to take in at the time because I was so young, but, it was good that I was being recognised for my efforts on the pitch.”
After his first season with Accies, Andy had scored 4 goals in 25 matches.
“It was tough – I was trying my heart out, so, to finish on four goals as a forward player isn’t great, but, for me having just broken into the first-team then it wasn’t too bad a return as I was still getting a taste for things. Having gotten my first season out the way, and having signed a three-year contract extension, the next season I was hoping to just cement my place in the team but at the beginning of the season I went through a bit of a dry-patch where I didn’t score in 20 matches. If I remember correctly, at the time, I was being played out wide which was a new position to me as well, so I found that difficult to adjust to. I was slightly disappointed with the way that season went as I would have liked to have scored more goals [having only scored 3 in 33 appearances]. I am not 100% sure on how many starts I got but I certainly would have liked to have received more over the course of the season to try to prove my worth for the team.”
Ryan was sent off in the final match of his 2012/13 season against Cowdenbeath before stating that summer he felt he needed to try impress manager Alex Neil once again.
“With my chances already being limited, before I got my red-card, it gave me the added motivation to go away in the summer and come back in good shape. I felt I had something to prove as I felt I deserved to be playing more regularly. Having been there for 10 years, it was hard to get to grips with Alex Neil being manager as you have been a team-mate of his but now he is taking your training sessions and managing you; he was an unbelievable manager and an incredibly good man-manager – he could give you a right earful if need be, but, he also knew how to get the best out of his group of players, as individuals and as a team: he is one of the best managers I have ever worked under and that is why he is currently doing so well down in England.
The previous two seasons I hadn’t played as much as I had liked and after having a chat with the manager, I felt it’d be good for me to get out on loan to try get games and goals under my belt, as that is all I wanted to do. I signed for Brechin for a month and I played in all 4 matches, scoring 1 goal, against Arbroath. My first game was against Rangers, when they were in the division which was great. I was fit and I was sharp but there is a difference between these and being match-sharp, and that is what I felt I needed. I felt as if I got that while I was there – it was much better to be playing in big matches like the Rangers game than playing in the Under-20’s league. League One matches have a good tempo and playing against men was something I really needed – I was eager to test myself.”
Despite winning promotion to the Premiership, Andy had become slightly disillusioned with his own development and footballing career.
“When you turn up to a match and you know you aren’t going to be playing, your confidence does start to go. It drains everything out of you, as, I was a young guy and all I wanted to do was to be playing football. I never have been involved and don’t think I ever will be involved in a match quite like the 10-2 win over Morton! We knew before the game if Dundee didn’t win, and we won by 8 or more goals, then we could win the league. I believe Dumbarton should have had a penalty in the last minute which might’ve been the equaliser to win us the title as we had done our part; it was just an incredible afternoon. As players, you do have one-eye on the facts, so we knew what was required. First and foremost, we just wanted to win the game, but, once it goes from 2 to 3 to 4 to 5 then you start thinking “we’ve actually got a chance of doing this here”, so, I think within the match we knew we could go on and win by 8 goals. We were always a confident group within ourselves, but, Alex Neil also installed a self-belief within us as he believed in us too – we took that into the play-offs, having defeated Falkirk we then beat Hibs on penalties to round off a great day.
In the first-leg, we lost 2-0 but we had done okay in the game…going there, we knew they were under big, big, pressure; Alex Neil told us “if you get the first goal, their crowd will get on their backs”. That is exactly what happened and we just kept on going and pushing and thankfully the second goal finally came to take it to extra-time. I was one of the first ones to put my hand up to take a penalty, but I was going to be the fifth player to step-up but we won it after four so I didn’t take a penalty. I wanted to have a taste of playing in the top division, but, in the back of my mind, I always knew that eventually I would need to move on to try rediscover myself, get my confidence back and rekindle my love with football again. It was a big decision for me [to remain with Hamilton] as I was still young at the time, but, I just felt that if I wanted to do something in the game, I needed to move on. After November, I was out injured for 9 months as I had to get a double groin operation. Coming off the back of not playing very many games, that period was mentally and physically really, really, tough. I was sitting there questioning myself and wondering whether I wanted to really do this anymore; I was contemplating continuing with my footballing career and after getting back fit, I knew it was time to move on for the benefit of my long-term career.”
Ryan went on loan to Arbroath before joining Forfar for the tail end of the 2015/16 season.
“It was an easy decision to join Arbroath to be honest. I wasn’t bothered about where I needed to go or what level I need to drop to, it was purely about playing football again. They are a great club and I really enjoyed plying my trade there; when I look back on it now, joining them was probably one of the biggest decisions I made as it got me back out playing football and scoring goals again. The loan period for me was exactly what I needed – I got my hunger back, I got my fitness back and then when I left Hamilton, I had a lot of options: I could have stayed in the Championship, I had offers to go to clubs in League One and in League Two, but, I decided that a move down just one league was best to see if I can continue playing games and scoring goals consistently.
I knew if I could impress that I would be taking one-step back for 6 months to take two-steps forward in the long-term and when I think about it now, I am glad I made that decision as it ended up being perfect for me. I always knew I had the ability to score goals – for me, it was always about getting a run of games to show this. I needed to get into the habit of scoring goals and by scoring 9 goals in 16 matches, it made me believe in myself which I hadn’t been doing previously. It was fantastic to get out there and play regularly: the only disappointment was that results didn’t go our way and we ended up getting relegated; I now have a promotion and relegation on my CV! It was a really well-run part-time club and I honestly enjoyed every minute of my time there as even though I didn’t realise it at the time because I wasn’t focusing on myself due to the injuries, but, considering our circumstances, 9 goals in 16 appearances is a pretty decent return.”
Andy’s main focus in the summer of 2016 was to regain full-time status and he managed to do this by joining Airdrieonians.
“My time with Forfar in particular made me understand what it took to play first-team football – I learned how much demands are upon you and that if you don’t play well, you won’t be in the team. It is a rough league: you are playing with men and coming up against men, every week. Tackles are constantly flying in and it makes you man-up. I really wanted to get back into a full-time environment and despite having offers from the Championship, I felt then that it’d be best for me to stay in League One for a full season to prove my time at Forfar wasn’t just a one-off. I felt this decision would do me the world of good and I think it has shown that it has done. I went into my first season there with so much confidence and I had set myself a target of finishing the season in double figures – I managed that and a bit more considering I scored 27 times. I felt I was going to score every time I went on the park and I got a chance; some players thrive on pressure, while so crumble. I was upfront alongside Iain Russell last season and we just seemed to compliment each other really well: we helped each other out during the matches, we used all our different attributes to the betterment of the team and we bounced off each other… I loved playing in that partnership every match. There are people who will say “he isn’t good enough” or “he can’t score goals” – these are the people I want to prove wrong. When I was going into that season, I was expecting my first child too, so, it had went from me needing to man-up to me needing to grow-up: I wasn’t just doing this for myself anymore, I had a family to provide for as well so that gave me that added incentive and piece of motivation that you need each and every time you step out on to the park. I managed to reach personal goals such as scoring my first senior hat-trick last season, too; I remember it well – it came in an away game at East Fife. I scored one in the first-half and then twice in the second-half, I am sure my second goal was a penalty. It does play on your head when you have 2 goals and you know you are so close to getting to keep the match-ball! You end up wanting to shoot from everywhere, every time you get the ball and charging about like a bear, but, thankfully for me, the ball landed to me inside the 6-yard-box and I just smashed it home!”
Having scored more goals than any other player in the SPFL last term, Ryan was hot property this summer.
“When I went to Airdrieonians, I got my first goal fairly early and I think that was crucial as the longer you go without a goal, the harder you try and sometimes you can try too hard and that is when things don’t happen for you. It was all about momentum – once I got one, things just kept flowing and I was happy with how things went. You hear bits and bobs about teams being interested in you, but, from my perspective I just kept my head down and went into my work-place every day as I would and kept on trying to impress and improve. In my mind, if a move came up then I would consider it but until then I would just keep doing my job to the best of my ability with Airdrieonians. The move to Dunfermline happened so fast; I was just sitting in my house on a Sunday night when my agent called me and told me that the club had had a bid accepted for me and asked if I was happy to go and do a medical here on the Monday. I came in and did all the checks with Kenny [Murray – Physio] and I was here late on the Monday-night getting everything tied up as I knew we had a game the following day against Arbroath. The funny thing as well, was, that I had played against Arbroath on the Saturday for Airdrieonains and scored and now I was about to face them again, so, myself and the manager were both keen to get things done fast so I could be apart of the squad for that match.
When someone pays money for you, there is always that pressure on your back as people want to see what you can do; I still had that tag over me considering I had been the top scorer last season with 27 goals, so, there was an expectancy on me I think. I felt it was important I got off to a good start and impressed quickly and I think I done that with my two goals on my debut. It is a compliment that people are willing to spend money on you to bring you to their club, so, it was difficult going straight into the side without meeting my team-mates or having a training session but the manager was just trying to talk me through a few things pre-match and the rest was just about using my own game knowledge to try anticipate what the others were going to do. When you go out on the pitch, you just focus on your own game and that is what I did.”
How is Ryan enjoying life in Fife now that he has had a chance to settle in?
“I always knew this was a big club – it is a well-supported team, as can be seen by the crowd we got against Falkirk with over 7,000 people here. I know the club have ambitions of promotion this season and I don’t feel we are too far off reaching that target at the moment. Coming off the back of playing regularly for the past 18 months, it is hard going back to sitting on the bench a lot. I ain’t going to lie, it is very frustrating, but, it is the same with every player as all you want to do on a Saturday is to be out there playing. The manager is the man who picks the team and I just need to try keep giving him food for thought by taking any chances that do come my way by scoring goals, performing well and helping the team out. Having got my first 90 minutes under my belt in a long time, it was so frustrating to injure my ankle ligaments during a crossing and finishing drill during training on the Friday; I worked extra hard to get myself back fit, I done 3 or 4 sessions each day and thankfully I am now back and fighting for my spot in the team once again. The main thing we need as a squad right now is to start putting another run together: we have had two good results in our last two home matches so we hope to continue our decent home form into today’s match as we are all determined in the dressing room to get the club to where it wants to be come the end of this season.”
Having made 184 career appearances and having scored 57 career goals to date [as of 4th January 2018], Andy is hoping to kick-on further as he enters the final 18 months of his current deal at East End Park.
“In everyone’s career, there are always ups and downs – it is how you deal with them. From my injury [at Hamilton], onwards, I have been happy enough with how things have gone in my career. Life off-the-park is also enjoyable with my son having been born, and that for me is a massive thing as if you are enjoying your personal life then your on-field performances show that, in my opinion. No matter what age you are, you are always going to learn and are always able to improve on the training pitch. I feel as if I am learning every day and I am eager to keep learning and I do that by working hard each day. The strikers we have at the club are great – guys like Nicky [Clark] are great as they have the game-experience to give you wee tips; things like instead of running 10-15 yards to try get into space, you only need to move 5 yards: it is just simple things like that that I am picking up which will only benefit me in the future. It is always good to have that kind of experience in the squad, but, for me personally, I am happy to have passed the half-century mark of goals by the age of 23, but, I am not even concerning myself about that – I go out in every game to try score goals, that is my job and that is what I will continue to do. I don’t normally set myself targets, I usually just see how the season is panning out and take each game as it comes.
I just want to thank the fans for sticking behind us all recently; I know it hasn’t been easy over the past month or two but I hopefully now hope we have got out of our wee sticky-patch, we can get back on a good run which will in turn kick us on for the remainder of the season.”