Come. Pull up a chair, empty your heads and open your minds. With all the artillery that's been going off on either side, it's not often you hear those calling out from no man's land. It's where Ray Ryan has been lying largely unnoticed since December, watching the shells fly overhead and seeing more than the odd one land a little close. On a night out in Cork city recently, he left a pub only to have a group of women fire off the words "captain scab" in his direction. It was far from the only time that phrase had been spat out at the county's 2009 on-field leader.
Undeterred he's arranged to meet in the city centre and suggested he'll wear his Cork hoodie. His attire is not so much to make a statement but so you'll actually recognise him. And it's needed because a hurling history of Ray Ryan is brief and largely irrelevant. Now 27, he'd never hurled for Cork at any age, never won a county title until last season but points out that he does have a seven-a-side Kilmacud title in his possession. Little wonder he was better known in sporting circles as Pat Ryan's younger brother for years on end.
There was that one time when he got close to following family footsteps. Back in 2006 when Sarsfields reached a county semi-final and he was named centre-back on the Cork club team of the year, he was asked along to trials. Reckons it went well too, but when the call never came he decided to get real and moved on. Then late last year the phone did ring. It was his clubmate and county selector Teddy McCarthy on behalf of Gerald McCarthy, asking him to come on board for the game against St Colman's.
"There were mixed emotions. Usually it's the call every hurler is looking for but at the time I was a bit iffy. I was wondering if I'd be treading on peoples' toes. With Teddy I knew which side he was coming from so I didn't ask him for advice. I'd seek that from other sources like family and friends but the one person I wanted to clear it with most was Kieran Murphy. It was a very difficult position for him as a member of the 2008 panel and the fact we've always been very, very good friends.
"But I had a very good chat with Kieran and he would never stop anyone playing for Cork. At the time we all thought it would be sorted before long anyway. He'd go back to his old duties with Cork and I'd filter back in with Sars. But he's a club man first and was delighted in one way that we all [Ryan and his Sarsfields clubmates] got the call and I even got a phone call the morning of the Tipperary game from him telling me to enjoy Semple Stadium. He is supportive and I know for a fact he wants to be back with Cork. He just wants to play hurling. But I can understand his allegiance to the 2008 panel because they have to stick together."
With Kieran okay with the idea, the other he sought counsel from was Pat. Man of the match in the 1997 All Ireland under-21 final, the player that rocked and rolled Clare when coming on for Mark Landers in '99 and a senior panellist into and beyond the millennium, big brother was far from keen. He suggested Ray wait and see how the situation played out and became more vocal when telling his brother that he listened to but never heeded advice. Given the situation at home, you ask what it was that made Ray join the 2009 side?
"The thing for me was my age and I wondered was it worth getting this hassle to play for Cork. For any 19-, 20-, 21-year old to get a chance to show what they are about, the minute they were asked it should be an automatic yes. But me? I suppose the best way to put it is that for years I was a fan and I'm of the opinion it should be a privilege to play for your county. I understand the problems the Cork players from last year have but I don't think they are going about it the right way. Like Pat was involved in the 2002 strike but I think that it's different this time. What they are doing is not right."
You mention the jersey a lot but does that honour not come from the achievement that you are one of the best 30 players in your county which this group is not, you ask? Does that honour not come from working hard and being good enough rather than by default which is the case with you and your team?
"Let me put it this way. If you wear the jersey at minor, junior or senior, you are still getting to wear it, still getting to play for your county. We are representing the best players Cork have to offer in the National League. There's honour in that. There's honour in playing under Ger Mc. I was at the CIT [Sigerson Cup] game Wednesday and the two best hurlers on view were Ger O'Driscoll and Chris Murphy who are on the Cork panel. It just shows how good a trainer Ger is. The players that are on form with club or college seem to be the players he is taking care of. So there is loads of honour there.
"And given what I've seen of Ger Mc I was surprised at some of the stuff people said about him. Brian Cody said a very good thing. You are never going to get a manager everyone gets on with. I've had club managers I didn't like, I didn't agree with, but they are still the manager, you do what they say and try to impress them. But that's the way last year's side feel, they've had him for two years, I've only had him for two months. You could say we don't know what it takes to win because we haven't been involved. Guys like Seán Óg, I'd admire them hugely and idolised them over the last few years and of course they know what it takes to win but they made a decision and aren't playing."
As for the guys that are playing, it hasn't been easy on or off the pitch. Ryan admits he felt moral dilemmas ahead of the game against Colman's and that there was a general unease in the dressing room. Part of that came from the lack of natural evolution that most senior county panels have gone through. They were like an under-12 team coming together for the first time with no cohesion and no knowledge of each other. But while they are gradually overcoming that, realism is still everywhere. "The likelihood is relegation and being beaten by Tipp in the championship but that doesn't mean we are half-paced in training and so on," he admits. But a bigger worry remains off the field.
"You mentioned scab earlier. I love that word. I've heard it a lot but I'm big and old and able to take it on the chin but I think that's way out of line and very unfair on the young fellas who are giving everything to play for Cork at the minute. Fellas who use this lingo are not true supporters. Words like that will have an impact. The harsh realism of this is these guys are going to play for Cork in the future and this isn't going to endear them to that experience very much.
"These people don't know anything about hurling. You can see you're getting looks when you are out and about and people are disgusted and think if we weren't there the whole thing would be sorted. But that's not true. It's impossible for the 2008 panel to get everyone to walk away from playing for Cork. I don't think they are on strike for self-gain, but they have made a mistake. They should have three solid months of training done already. At the end of the day they should want to represent Cork and that's all we're doing. That doesn't deserve abuse. It's sport and people are taking this way too far. We're just a bunch of guys playing hurling for Cork."
Before his voice is again lost in no man's land, you mention the GPA. He refuses to comment but adds that it's clear they don't want this Cork team in, that they refused a group that never wanted to be members to begin with and that Dessie Farrell need not lose too much sleep because they couldn't really care. You mention Frank Murphy as well but he says he's had no influence other than the odd pat in the back and the odd word of congratulations in the dressing room.
So what now for Pat Ryan's younger brother? "I do sometimes imagine a sunny day at Semple Stadium in the championship. But on Sunday against Galway I get to walk up for the toss with my head up and chest out knowing I'm captain of Cork. People can say what they want about me now but they can never take that away from me."