St Kilda ruckman and former Port Adelaide and Essendon player Paddy Ryder will play his 250th career game tonight against the Gold Coast Suns. Former Port Adelaide teammate Todd Marshall and St Kilda ruck and midfield coach Adam Skrobalak spoke to aflplayers.com.au about his incredible career and the impact he has had on football.
When you ask those that have spent time with Paddy Ryder the best way to describe him, the theme is consistent: warm-hearted, kind and with a willingness to help others.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise the AFL veteran is so deeply respected by players, coaches and administrators at the three clubs he’s represented.
When St Kilda ruck and midfield coach Adam Skrobalak met Paddy Ryder on the first day of the 2020 pre-season he was struck by two things: his knowledge of the ruck craft and his ability to help others.
For an emerging group, particularly within their ruck stocks, Ryder was the perfect fit.
“He’s been around a long time and is one of the older guys in the system, but his knowledge on how to handle certain situations in football stands out,” Skrobalak told aflplayers.com.au ahead of Ryder’s milestone.
“Paddy is very giving (of his time and football knowledge), which has been great for the group.”
Drafted to Essendon with pick No. 7 in the 2005 National Draft, Ryder became an important figure in the Bombers’ line-up for 170 games before moving to Port Adelaide ahead of the 2015 season.
Following his move to South Australia as the Power’s big name recruit, Ryder played all 22 games in the 2015 season before missing 2016 due to the ASADA-imposed suspension.
Ryder returned in 2017 to play a career-best season which earned him an All Australian selection and recognition from the Power as their best and fairest player.
Ryder’s impact on the club was notable and for young draftee Todd Marshall, who joined the Power with pick No. 16 in the 2016 Draft, it was significant.
Marshall joined the Power from Deniliquin – a town in the Riverina region of NSW – world’s away from the busy streets of Adelaide.
Away from family and still mourning the deaths of his Mum and Dad, the Ryders – Paddy, his wife Jess and their children – became a surrogate family for Marshall.
“I got a lot of support from people (after the death of Marshall’s parents) but Paddy was the one I was most comfortable speaking with,” Marshall told aflplayers.com.au.
“Even though there is an 11-year age gap we have a lot of similarities – we’re both pretty quiet, don’t express ourselves much and are always wanting to help others.
“We’ve connected pretty deeply on that level and it’s turned into a really strong friendship.”
Ryder has also been one to help Marshall immensely with his football, supporting him and he developed his forward craft and work as a back-up ruck.
With Scott Lycett joining the club from West Coast ahead of the 2019 season, Ryder’s role changed and it saw him work more closely with Marshall as a ruck-forward.
The change in role ultimately resulted in Ryder seeking other opportunities and joining the Saints during last year’s trade period.
A move which left the No. 4 guernsey vacant at the Power and available for Marshall to inherit.
Although he was unsure at first when Port Adelaide’s General Manager of Football Chris Davies approached him about the move from No.13 to No. 4, after a discussion with Ryder, Marshall felt like it was the best outcome.
“In my mind it helped me have a fresh start as well… knowing he said he’d love me to have it, is something that’s pretty special to me,” Marshall said.
Since arriving at the Saints, Ryder has been lauded by the coaching staff for his work with emerging star Rowan Marshall and developing ruckmen Ryan Abbott and Sam Alabakis.
Despite some media scrutiny in the early rounds of the on-field partnership between Marshall and Ryder, Skrobalak has lauded both players for the impact they’ve had on St Kilda’s ball-winning ability.
“We’ve got an emerging (midfield) group and they’ve all lifted their game because of the first use we’re getting,” Skrobalak said.
Ryder has been focusing on supporting his younger teammates, assisting them with their development both on and off the field.
Skrobalak said Ryder’s professionalism coupled with his easy-going and fun nature has been instrumental to the St Kilda group.
“He’s fitted in since day one and I’ve really loved the way he’s not only always working on his own game, but his willingness to help others with theirs,” he said.
Ryder’s selflessness and care for others is something that Todd Marshall admires, particularly because he’s felt that support firsthand.
When he reflects on their friendship – despite the gap in age and stages of life – Marshall is thankful that Ryder is always there to check in on him and vice versa.
“I think when you’re living away from someone and you don’t see them for a while but they’re still there for you, that’s the sign of a really good friendship,” Marshall said.
“(Spending time with the Ryders) felt like a family and their house was a safe haven for me when I was going through those challenging times.
“I can’t thank them enough for that.”
On Thursday night, Ryder becomes the 15th Indigenous player to reach 250 games – a milestone that Skrobalak described as an “incredible achievement”.
From when Ryder first took to the field in 2006 to where he is now, 14 seasons later, the ruck craft has changed significantly, but such is his determination and commitment to improve, he’s kept up with the ever-changing football landscape.
“His movement with the game is a testament to him,” Skrobalak said.
“He’s shown a lot of durability but also huge adaptability as well.”