Yamatji man Liam Ryan has already made his mark in the AFL with many a great performance with West Coast, including kicking three goals in an elimination final win in 2019, but at just 24 he has a long career ahead of him.

Growing up with the game, his father Darren Ryan was a Geraldton football legend and had a brief stint with WAFL club Claremont.

“Football is in my genes. My dad, his brother, my mum’s brother all played. I grew up watching my dad mainly, I used to watch him at training from the time I was three-years-old and would train with him up in Geraldton. I just love football, grew up around it,” Ryan told the National Indigenous Times.

“I had a lot of big cousins telling me to play WAFL. I waited until I was the right age, at the right time for me, and spent two years in the WAFL system before West Coast drafted me.”

At WAFL club Subiaco, Ryan went quickly from the reserves into the senior team, kicking 40 goals from 16 senior games in his first season. In 2017, he kicked 73 goals from 23 games for the Lions, winning the Bernie Naylor Medal for the league’s leading goal kicker.

An AFL All-Australian in 2020, Ryan has kicked 77 goals from 56 games with the Eagles. It’s no wonder they call him Flyin’ Ryan.

Ryan has high hopes for 2021 and can’t wait for the return of mercurial forward Willie Rioli after a two-year doping ban, which was not related to performance-enhancing drugs.

“I’m feeling very positive about this year,” he said.

“We have got a good side, we have started all right. I can’t wait to get the full side going, hopefully win a few more games and keep going strong.

“What I am even happier about is Willie (Rioli) coming back towards the end of the year, to get him back for finals. Me and Willie can have defenders scared in the finals, like in 2018.”

Ryan has been juggling being a father of three young children, including twin boys, and being a full-time elite athlete.

“It can be pretty hard. I wake up with my young babies, the twin boys during the night and get them back to sleep during the night because the missus has got them all day until I am home from training. My big girl, they follow her,” he said.

“Having three kids under three last year was pretty hard, but I adjusted and know what to do. It’s not too bad now, I know when to keep my mind on footy and when to have it off footy.”

He notes that his daughter “likes to have a kick”, but he won’t push her to follow in his footsteps.

Ryan said the game’s treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players has, for the most part, come a long way in recent years.

“For me personally West Coast has been really big on it, for us Indigenous players at the club. I think it was a bit different in the league 10 years ago … I was a kid back then, but a lot of things have changed and a lot of clubs respect and want to learn about cultural stuff,” he said.

“When I went on my Indigenous camp, (Melbourne coach) Simon Goodwin was there, really taking a lot of things in as a senior coach. I appreciated that, and I think a lot of people did. It is important … to do more stuff like that with coaches, taking it all in.

“The clubs these days feel more for what we (Indigenous people) have been through.

“Clubs have adjusted a lot from 10 years ago.”

By Giovanni Torre