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SUBC Champ Eight NSW 2009
SUBC Champ Eight NSW 2009

Rowing is one of those sports where even the truly great athletes fade away from competition. Not for rowing the glitzy press conference with its pre-ordained routine, the trite questions and answers about more family time. Even if rowing was a headline sport those of us who know the sport realize that while our great athletes appreciate the acknowledgement of their success and work most prefer understatement and the satisfaction of success won from the hard work put in. And so it was the case with one of Sydney Uni Boat Club's greatest ever rowers - word filtered quitely out of Melbourne that Matt Ryan was not rigging up the boat, pulling on the zootie and preparing his hands for another season of gruelling work. After nearly fifteen years of rowing our most succesfull oarsman of recent times told his pair partner that while the spirit was always willing, the commitment forever there, the body was no longer in shape to take the pounding that another season would bring. Now with two young girls and work commitments looming as more and more important the time had come to rack that oar for the last time (competitively). Matt with the SUBC crew after winning the Champion Eights of NSW 2009

As usual in rowing nobody said anything ( but that's normal) - he wasn't showered with accolades, farewell tributes about his accomplishments - Rowing Australia and Rowing NSW did not send a note, write it up on their website or even make a phone call - as I said we leave our rowers to fade away.

Well as far as SUBC and New South Wales and even Australia goes we can't let Matt Ryan retire without some acknowledgement of his successes and his key role as part of the heart and soul of seven winning New South Wales Kings Cups crews.

Matt started rowing at Kings School and won the GPS Head of the River in the 1st Eights in 2001 and 2002. In 2002 he stroked the Australian Junior Four to a gold medal in Trakai. Starting at Sydney Uni Boat Club he gained selection in the 2003 Australian U23 Eight along with his clubmates Francis Hegerty, Tim Williams and Mike Valli - this crew coached by Tim Conrad won bronze in Belgrade. The following year he was again in the U23 team - this time stroking an all uni coxed four with Fergus Pragnell, Mike Valli and Ian Allsop and cox Robbie Williams and winning gold in Poznan.

The next two years 2005 and 2006 saw Matt move into the senior team rowing in the 2005 worlds in the senior four and finishing 9th in Gifu , Japan and in 2006 he made the Australian eight which came fourth in the worlds at Lake Dorney UK. Matt was again in the eight in 2007 at the World Championships in Munich but the crew dropped a few places to finish eight.

08 Lucern WC Matt-Francis IV
08 Lucern WC Matt-Francis IV

After a steady rise to the top men's sweep crews Matt was aiming for selection in the eight for the 2008 Beijing Olympics but at the end of the selection trials Matt found himself back in the senior four with Frank Hegerty of SUBC and James Marburg and Cam McKenzie - McHarg of Melbourne Uni Boat Club. The boat was not even qualified and it was considered the crew would have their work cut out to achieve that in Poznan at the FISA regatta. Teaming up with coach Tim Conrad again the crew soon started impressing local observers as they trained on the Nepean through March to May that year before heading to the World cup in Lucern. Here the four rowed one of the most beautiful rhythms you could watch as they left the favoured crews behind to take gold. Onto Poznan where on the morning of the qualification final Matt was so sick he could not row (was replaced by Terrence Alfred) and had to rest on a stretcher while the race was run and the crew qualified. And then to the Beijing Olympics where Matt and his crew took on the favourites GB - leading most of the way and just missing gold - taking the Olympic silver. Matt with Francis Hegerty after winning the World Cup Lucern 2008

Matt represented during the next quadrennium winning a World Championship silver in the four in 2009 and a bronze in the Australian eight at the 2010 World Championships in New Zealand. In his second Olympics Matt was in the Australian eight which finished sixth in London where only a length separated all six crews.

Breakthrough 2008 KC8 celebrating victory
Breakthrough 2008 KC8 celebrating victory

Over the years Matt won many local New South Wales senior championship and national championship races but he will be best remembered for his incredible contribution to resurrecting the fortunes of the New South Wales men's eight in the King's Cup. The formation of the NSW King's Cup Committee and the Kings and Queens Cup lunch coupled with revamped state selection policies saw the 2008 crew breakthrough for a narrow(0.21 sec) victory. Only the third win in thirty years for NSW but the start of seven wins in a row in which Matt Ryan, on each occasion played an important part. When asked by the writer circa 2010 what the Roman numerals tattooed on his right arm meant Matt pointed out they were the the numerals 14, 19 and 23 - yes but what does signify ? I asked - Matt explained they were the numbers for the letters of the alphabet NSW. Ryano - no 3 in the 2008 Kings Cup Eight - the " breakthrough win"

With seven wins in the Kings Cup Matt is joined by fellow NSW rowers James Chapman and Fergus Pragnell - currently the three of them hold the NSW record for the most wins in this event. You can be sure Matt will be hoping that this year Fergus or James will have the opportunity to break the record he jointly holds with them.

So ends the competitive career of one of our club's best. However it has not just been as a rower Matt has excelled. In bonding sessions he can exceed others as required (while hopefully staying in one piece), he can talk garbage all day (or between rows) with the best and has always demonstrated incredible loyalty and appreciation to his crew mates, his coaches, his club , state and country.