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Byrne about to cross hurling's great divide

FROM Denis Byrne's homeplace in Kilkenny one notices a looming mountain backdrop it is Slievenamon, located across the border in Tipperary. They're that close. Mullinahone sits ten miles away and the border itself less than two.

But in hurling terms the divide is gargantuan; there's no blurring of the line separating the two tribes. You're one or the other. In that light, Denis Byrne's transfer to Mullinahone and Tipperary is the stuff of wild fantasy.

Perhaps Slievenamon itself is flexing some spiritual force on proceedings, because standard transfer reasons are proving elusive. Shorn of an explanation from the man himself, the story has inevitably stoked up speculation. He had to expect this. He's too high-profile a hurler not to. At 28, he's leaving a prosperous club and county to play with their deadliest rivals. That switch was hardly going to pass unnoticed.

Whatever the motive may be, he is entitled to do whatever he chooses. Stretching it we might say he is above the tribal concerns which entrap most of us but that would be overly generous. He can't have made the move lightly.

With Graigue-Ballycallan he's had a long and happy innings for the most part. They've won two of the last four county titles and came close to adding an All-Ireland club championship in March, 2001. His club is undoubtedly the main loser in the deal.

The most plausible theory is that he is trying to breathe new life into an ailing inter-county career. In 2000 he overcame a series of personal setbacks to star in Kilkenny's All-Ireland win. He was hurling out of his skin.

But his fortunes plummeted from there. In the All-Ireland club final he failed to control a ball which led to a last-minute goal by Eugene Cloonan. It forced extra-time and Athenry went on to win. We can't underestimate how much this has dogged him.

As captain, he led Kilkenny to the Leinster title later that summer but his form was patchy and Brian Cody didn't start him against Galway. When he was sent on the match had already been put beyond Kilkenny's reach.

And last season he failed to make the panel, injured in an early season match and never recalled. This would have cut right to the quick and he can feel entitled to some sympathy because he had strong claims on a panel spot at the very least. Having won an All-Ireland, the Kilkenny panel is unlikely to change much this season, although Cody looked at 10 new recruits yesterday.

All of which spells bad news for Byrne's future. Yet others have persisted in similar straits John Power springs to mind.

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You can't imagine Power pulling on a Tipp shirt unless perhaps to raise money for charity if even then and while he bristled at his omission under Kevin Fennelly he bided his time and got his reward.

No two people are the same, however, and it is Byrne's unique personality that is driving his decision.

He's brooding and intense by nature, fanatical about hurling to the extent that nothing else seems to matter.

His mood swings in faithful tandem to his hurling form.

Being overlooked by a team which meant the world to him has brought a decision he would surely have thought only a couple of years ago to be unthinkable.


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