Entering the field of play in the 76th minute, where he replaced fellow Academy graduate Michael Proctor, then 18-year-old Richie Ryan made his debut at the Stadium of Light in the all important Wear-Tyne Derby. The saying "baptism of fire" has perhaps never been quite so accurate.
With recently relegated Sunderland trailing to a first half Nolberto Solano penalty, the kitchen sink was being thrown at Newcastle's back line in a desperate attempt at grabbing an equaliser. In the dying embers of the game, as a spirited but limited team were roared forward, a cross from Kevin Kilbane fell invitingly in the six yard box. As Tore Andre Flo turned to get a head on it, an onrushing Shay Given bumped into the big Norweigan, leaving Kevin Kyle to nod into an empty net in the 90th minute. Wearside, and debutant Richie Ryan, was sent into raptures. A dream debut: a last minute equaliser to halt a run of defeats, and against the old enemy, too... unfortunately, Referee Steve Bennett had other ideas.
The tangle (which I attest to this very day was NOT a foul) between Flo and the Newcastle goalkeeper was adjudged to have been enough for the whistle to be blown. The goal was disallowed and Tyneside breathed a collective sigh of relief. Sadly for debutant Richie, this was about as good as it got. Despite getting a 45 minute run out a fortnight later, it turned out to be a forgettable afternoon as a Freddie Ljungberg hat-trick condemned us to our fifteenth league defeat in a row. Desperate times.
Players such as Chris Black, Jonjo Dickman and indeed Ryan himself had been given opportunities by our new Manager, Mick McCarthy. Full in the knowledge that he would lose the likes of McCann, Phillips, Sorensen and Craddock come season’s end, McCarthy decided to blood a number of the Academy players in an attempt to give them some vital playing experience going into what would, at the very least, be a summer of wholesale changes ahead of the forthcoming Championship season.
Unfortunately for Richie and co. they just didn’t quite do enough to earn a place in the starting line-up that following season, and subsequently players life Jeff Whitley and Colin Healy were drafted into the side’s midfield.
As the 2005 season progressed, Sunderland were genuine contenders for automatic promotion, as well as securing a place in the semi-final of the FA Cup. Unfortunately for young Ryan, two long-term hip injuries to the Belverdere youngster meant he was quickly forgotten about, and effectively signalled an end to his time on Wearside.
When asked about his time at the club, Ryan attested to the fact that his downfall was perhaps also in part his own doing:
I spent nine months out with injury, but then I only have myself to blame probably for my demise at Sunderland. Not doing enough in the gym I suppose, to give myself that chance again.
A loan move to Scunthorpe United after recovering from injury afforded Ryan the opportunity to stake a claim for a place in the league football - one which he took with both hands. His move to The Irons became permanent in the summer of 2005, and he went on to make 13 appearances at Glanford Park, where he was captained by another former Mackem/Irish youngster, Cliff Byrne. However, after a solitary season in Claret and Blue Ryan left in search of even more game time. Boston United was the next stop for the Irish youngster.
A double relegation and disagreement with the club’s management meant the move to Lincolnshire didn’t work out as planned for the Irish under-18 international.
I was constantly called a five-a-side footballer because I wanted to keep hold of the ball. At that point I thought maybe it was time to hang up my boots and move back home.
In a rather strange turn of events however, Ryan was offered a route back into full-time football by Royal Antwerp in the season of 2007-2008. The Belgian club famous for having a link with Manchester United had been known to nurture young talent and seemed an ideal move.
Sadly for Ryan, he only spent a year in Belgium, where he made a handful of appearances. With a career descending into nomadic status at the age of only 21, a permanent move back home to Irish side Sligo Rovers gave Ryan a much-needed opportunity for stability.
Indeed, that is exactly what his move back to Ireland provided as 111 appearances over three seasons saw the former Sunderland man captain the FAI club before securing a move to Scottish Premiership club Dundee United. Here Ryan enjoyed 36 appearances in the engine room at Tannadice Park before falling out with management once more. Again, much like the beginning of career, he was unable to earn a new deal only a year and a half later and left the club in the summer of 2013.
A brief spell back home in Ireland was once again the order of the day, this time picking up silverware after only three months - winning the League of Ireland cup with Shamrock Rovers in the September of that year. However, shortly afterwards North American Club, Ottawa City, offered him a move across the pond, where he became captain of the club and a well-liked character in general. Richie enjoyed his opening season in America, gaining a place in the League XI of that season whilst leading Ottowa to the ‘Soccer Bowl’.
Ryan has since had a very successful career in the United States. Renowned for his professionalism and passing ability, he most recently moved to Miami FC, a club co-owned by Paolo Maldini, for $750,000 (a league record at that time), where he plays under another Italian defensive legend, Alessandro Nesta.
Football is funny–you never really know what’s going to happen. I’d like to think that I’ll be here for the next two-and-a-half years and maybe longer after that, but that takes me to 34 years of age. At that age, you sadly do start thinking about hanging up your boots. I’d like to think I’ll hang my boots up on the American side of the water.
Not bad for someone who couldn’t get in a side containing Jeff Whitley, eh?