'The priority is to get back on the pitch as soon as possible'
Injury has spoiled Dolphin hooker's campaign, but he's looking ahead for his next opportunity
Published 01/04/2016 | 02:30
Kevin O'Byrne barely had time to catch breath before he had amassed 11 appearances in his first season with the Munster senior side, but injury has deprived him of the same sort of opportunities this time round.
The 24-year-old UL Bohemians clubman is currently rehabbing a knee injury he picked up in the crucial 18-16 win over Dolphin in the Ulster Bank League.
O'Byrne has continued to impress with his club while fit, despite their ninth-placed position in Division 1B, and the latest injury setback has come at the wrong time.
Munster are set to embark on their last four crucial Pro12 fixtures with Mike Sherry and Niall Scannell vying for the No 2 jersey, and Duncan Casey having not played a game since November.
It would have been the perfect time to push for a place in the match-day squad. But despite just one replacement appearance all season O'Byrne is determined to look on the bright side.
The Corkonian is determined to work on his skills, and says it will pay off for him when he returns. The two-year contract he earned this year has been his saving grace, and he was delighted to sign on the dotted line.
"I am delighted that I have got two years more of a contract. I have finished up in college and I can fully focus on it," says O'Byrne.
"I didn't really expect it. I worked really hard so I was delighted to sign but I don't know if I was expecting it. I worked as hard as I could to get it and it was big achievement.
"I would have liked to have played a lot more throughout the whole season, and to push on from where I was last year, to build on that.
"It was a little bit frustrating not getting to do that. But it's onwards and upwards and there's no point in dwelling on it."
O'Byrne sustained an injury to posterolateral corner of his knee when he hyper-extended it, in the match at Irish Independent Park on March 5. The cruel irony was that injuries gave O'Byrne his big opportunity in the first place last season.
He was parachuted into the Munster first-team set-up when Damien Varley and Mike Sherry were both injured. But this term Sherry is donning the Munster hooker jersey most often.
O'Byrne knows it was a badly-timed injury, considering he has only played as a replacement against Dragons this season. The 2015/'16 campaign is drawing to a close and it's likely Duncan Casey will be the next available option for coach Anthony Foley - O'Byrne may have missed a chance.
"The injury is not as good as I thought it would be at this stage. It's getting there now thankfully. But it's getting better thank God.
"It was painful and I thought the damage was going to be worse, but it was the best worst news I've ever gotten.
"You're always thinking ACL when something like that happens your knee, but thank God it's not. It's still an injury but it's not as bad as it could have been.
"I have had a few small ones throughout the year and they have held me back a little bit from where I want to be, I missed a couple of opportunities.
"But I am happy to be signed on for another few years and I am looking forward to that big time. The priority at the moment is to get back on the pitch as soon as possible, and get fully right before the end of the season and into pre-season again," he says.
O'Byrne signed his contract on March 2, on the same day fellow youngster and Munster native John Madigan also put pen to paper. O'Byrne makes it four home-grown Munster hookers in the squad.
In recent matches coach Foley has looked to use as many Munster born and bred players as possible and he is investing in the culture that helped Munster capture two European Cups.
The team that won in 2006 and 2008 were backboned by a brigade of Munster-born men. O'Byrne says it's important they foster that belief once more.
"At the moment we have four good home-grown hookers which is a great thing to have. There's definitely a tough battle every week. Everyone wants to put their hands up and say: 'Pick me this week'.
"Within the group, there are even smaller groups of players who have been playing with each other now for years. Last weekend the first 15 were all home-grown players. And I think 22 were Irish so that is excellent.
"We keep pushing on now for this year, and then finish up in the top four, and then build on this again with the same group to push further in the Champions Cup next year."
And while the Munster players pick up their performances on the pitch, O'Byrne continues his hard work off it as he looks to get back to fitness.
He is kept busy by the sásta Health and Fitness Club he owns with his brother, but he is finished in college for the time being, so he can focus more on his playing career.
"I did a BSc in Sports Strength and Conditioning in LIT and I am looking at a Master's next year if I can. It took me a while to do the course. I tried my hand at a couple of other courses but it wasn't really for me. The S&C suited me so I am happy with that. I am looking to get into physiotherapy next hopefully.
"The Master's is in UL. So I will be living, eating and sleeping, everything in UL, but for now it's all about rugby."