Byrne slams critics of AFL recruitment as 'selfish'
Former Carlton star Ciaran Byrne has hit out at critics of the AFL's 'Irish experiment', claiming that county boards and former players are being "selfish" by trying to convince young players not to swap codes Down Under.
Byrne called time on his AFL career two months ago after playing 22 first-grade games for Carlton across four injury-blighted seasons, but the Louth man, who turned 24 last week, has no regrets about his foray into professional sport.
A number of former players, including Irish Independent columnist Tomás Ó Sé, have been highly critical of the recruitment process, while just this week Kerry GAA released a booklet titled 'Stay, play and work in Kerry', in a bid to improve their prospects of retaining the county's best teenage talent when AFL scouts come knocking.
"I've seen Tomás say a lot of things and I think he is just selfish the way he is approaching it," Byrne says.
"Obviously there are a few Kerry boys who have gone but it would have been interesting to see when Tomás was 18, if he got the call to head out, would he have said no. I don't think he would have to be honest. It's not for everyone but I would definitely advise anyone to go out there and try it.
"I have no regrets whatsoever, I have given it my all out there, I gave it five years. I played 22 senior games and was probably unlucky not to play a lot more. But my time there is done. I have learned a lot over the last five years that is going to help me as a person and as a player."
Reputation Byrne had built quite a reputation as a talented half-back in a struggling Carlton side but serious injuries to his knee (ACL), hamstring and quad limited his opportunities, and ultimately he averaged fewer than six games over the past four seasons.
Despite returning to near career-best form towards the end of the 2018 AFL campaign, Byrne had already been strongly considering a permanent return to Louth before his body made his mind up for him.
He says he was "70-30" in favour of coming home for good when another serious injury in October - a broken ankle in the Louth IFC final success for St Mochta's, a game which Carlton, in an unusual move for an AFL club, game him permission to play - decided his fate.
Byrne is already well along on his latest lengthy rehab trail and while he is eyeing a Wee County return in the league under new manager Wayne Kierans, he concedes it is too soon to target a specific comeback game in Louth's Division 3 campaign.
"I need to try and start walking again, and once I get back going I will slowly start building that up. Once I get back playing Gaelic football I will be the happiest I've been in a while but that's the missing link at the minute. Once I can get back there I will be flying."