Wednesday 21 February 2018

Break making Leinster's Ed Byrne stronger

Leinster's Ed Byrne is tackled by Paul O'Connell of Munster during their Pro 12 encounter last October. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Leinster's Ed Byrne is tackled by Paul O'Connell of Munster during their Pro 12 encounter last October. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Marcus Ó Buachalla

There was a time this season when you couldn't escape injuries around Leinster way. Every cloud, though, and the silver lining more often than not shone on the fringe players who were thrust into the spotlight and given the jersey. Ed Byrne was one such player.

"Yeah it was great. I made my debut last year against Zebre but I really kicked on in terms of game time this season in that I played in four games including a good half-hour against Munster in a packed Aviva," says the front-row.

"So while it's brutal for your mates (who have been injured), you have to just focus on your job and the opportunity you have been given in that jersey."

It wasn't long before the same curse that befell others, ended his season. Against Edinburgh in October he felt the knee. He tried to play on but in the end he had to come off. The prognosis was devastating.

"The ACL is a long one. You aren't looking shorter than six months anyway so as soon as I saw the doc and the physios after, I knew straight away. It was a huge blow. Hard to put into words," he says.

Drafted

Before long, props Maks Van Dyke and Jamie Hagan had been drafted in on short-term loan deals to cover for the loss of Cian Healy and Byrne but also to accommodate the imminent loss of others like Marty Moore, Mike Ross and Jack McGrath to the Irish Six Nations preparations.

"You knew there was a really good opportunity here to get some minutes under the belt and build some experience. So to have it taken away was very frustrating. I was gutted," he says.

At only 21, the young prop from Carlow has plenty of time to recover and is already making strides.

"Yeah I'm on a strict programme and I am working to specific goals and targets. Thankfully I am hitting those targets fairly regularly and the hope is still to be back before the end of the season," he says.

He has also built up a relationship with the strength and conditioning and physio staff that he would rather wish he didn't have. Part and parcel.

"I've looked at this as an opportunity too. With the coaches, we looked at opportunities to strengthen up in other areas. So I've been in with them a lot, not only working on the knee but also working on other aspects and looking at other gains that can be made while I am laid up with the knee," he explains.

"You are just looking to get the positives front of mind and the staff have been brilliant in that regard. It's not easy but it's a contact sport and injuries will happen. It's up to you then how you react."

How difficult is it mentally to stay strong?

"It's hard, no doubt about it" admits Byrne. "And the first few weeks are awful. But you have to work on the mind and staying positive. (Sports psychologist) Enda McNulty has done some sessions with the Leinster Academy here and I have found him to be hugely beneficial to me as I make my way through this journey.

"He's a brilliant man in terms of mental toughness and I've taken a few key learnings from him like goal setting and staying in the moment."

As he set his targets in the gym, hits them, then re-sets them, others around him have made moves up the ladder and they are now preparing for a top four push in the Guinness Pro12, a quarter-final in the Champions Cup and the semi-final of the British & Irish Cup. It's the business end of the season and he'd love to be involved.

"I'd have to get my game first! Michael Bent, Cian and Jack are all super players and they are brilliant to be around and you can't but learn from them but of course I'd love to be involved in the set-up and getting to grips with them and helping them to prepare as best as I could," he says.

"But if I look a little further ahead the Rugby World Cup isn't too far away and I have to keep my sights on that too and hopefully being back to full fitness to take advantage of the times when the lads are away with Ireland."

For now, though, he's not too far away from a return to the pitch and running and then pitch sessions with the rest of the squad. And getting back out there with Marco Caputo.

"I've loved working with Marco this season. My scrummaging has really come along I think and just the little tweaks that he has brought to my game," says Byrne. "He's a super coach. Some of the drills that he has given me have been incredible.

"Even leaving that aside, when I got home after my injury he was straight onto the phone to me, encouraging me and already getting me to focus on the positives.

"Some days he'd be down in the gym with me, not just on the pitch, looking at my core technique and looking for little ways to improve it."

With the Six Nations block of games almost complete, what has he made of the three matches to date?

"It opened up opportunities for the likes of Dan Leavy, Peter Dooley, Ross Molony and Cathal Marsh have all been involved in match-day squads and have had game time so the window has definitely been beneficial," he says.

Scrambling

"Of course we'd have liked to have picked up a few more points but plenty others more experienced than me have already mentioned how difficult the Pro12 is this year with everyone scrambling for that top six for European qualification.

"It's the same this weekend against the Scarlets."

He'll watch the Scarlets game in the house that he shares with twin brother Bryan, a battle for the remote control the only confrontation he'll see.

"I've had some great highs already this season, have played four times and I am just focused now on getting the body right and getting back. Whether that is between now and the end of the season or back in time for next season, I'll be patient and I'll make sure I'm 100pc first.

"And I'll be there roaring the lads on as best I can."

Irish Independent

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