Hurler of the Year Diarmaid Byrnes eager to go again after extended break in Dubai: ‘Jesus, it’s great to be back. Absolutely delighted. So happy.’

Diarmaid Byrnes missed being involved with Limerick's hurlers. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Donnchadh Boyle

Back in the saddle and hungry for more. Diarmaid Byrnes took time away from the Limerick set-up earlier this year, only returning to the side for their round-four clash with Westmeath. That shouldn’t be interpreted as any sort of dying of the light or a sating of appetite. If anything, time on the outside looking in at the Limerick machine reminded him of why he so badly wanted to get in there in the first place.

It was the first-round clash against Cork that told him everything that he needed to know about his desire to go again with Limerick. Páirc Uí Chaoimh heaving under February lights. A game going to the wire. Byrnes was in Dubai visiting his partner. Watching that game, he realised he was ready to go again.

“You could even hear the atmosphere over speakers on the TV,” Byrnes recalled as John West announced the extension of their Féile sponsorship until 2025. “I missed that, I like being in the thick of it. A couple of years ago, the time of Covid here, all we had was posters of spectators. Kids drew them at home. That’s all we had. In 2021, we had half capacity, last year it was full. Jesus, I couldn’t think of anything worse now. Give me a full stadium all day.

​“I thought of that game, for a league match, 20,000 below in Cork for the month of February. Imagine what it’s going to be like in the championship. Really exciting stuff. I was missing home then. I was kind of like, ‘Get me back’.”

Last year saw the Patrickswell man named Hurler of the Year, the first defender to be honoured with the award since Kilkenny great Tommy Walsh. But there is always a new horizon. Something else to be chased. Limerick’s three-in-a-row and overall haul to date already marks them out as a team for the ages, but they can move into an even more exclusive club this year as they look to become just the third team to win four All-Irelands consecutively. It’s talk that will fill the airwaves and the column inches, but experience tells Byrnes they can’t look at the year that way.

“We’ve a real level-headed group,” he acknowledged. “It comes with experience. We’ve been fortunate enough to be involved here (in Croke Park) at the end of the year. Involved in finals, Munster finals. So lads know what to zone in on – and zone out on. Everyone has their own things they like to stay away from the week of a match or things they like to do.

“It hasn’t been something that lads have spoken about (a possible four-in-a-row). It’s nothing players are going to be worried about. It’s going to be there because that’s what it is. On the back of last year, people are going to be thinking Limerick will be there or thereabouts again, so it is going to be spoken about.

“We’ll settle down and focus on each game. The round-robin is so competitive. If you are looking past Munster, you’re very foolish. You see how competitive it was last year – and not just last year, every year. Was 2018 the first year of the round-robin? So, since then. I know it changed again during Covid.

“There are teams that get to a Munster final on score difference. It happened us in 2019. That’s how competitive it is. If you’re looking past that, looking at a four-in-a-row, you’d be very foolish.”

Small steps so towards big targets. Tipperary are next on the list in this weekend’s league semi-final, the team Byrnes made his debut against in 2016. And having been away, he’s eager to keep the train rolling.

“It’s been really enjoyable being back with the group. It was like being injured, like I was retired. The joy I got when I got back to the group – I didn’t realise how much I missed it when I was gone. A bit emotional in a way, ‘Jesus, it’s great to be back’. Absolutely delighted. I was so happy to be back.”