Byrne: There were days I thought I wouldn't play again
Ed Byrne has a new appreciation for the little things that are so often taken for granted as a professional rugby player - 28 months out injured will do that to you.
Having ruptured his ACL in 2014, the Carlow native assumed that his luck had run out but worse was to follow 10 months later when he damaged his patella tendon.
Another 15 months on the sidelines followed before Byrne eventually made it back for Leinster and the dark days that he endured means that he now relishes every chance he gets to step onto a pitch.
"The days I thought I wouldn't play again, they were the toughest," the 24-year-old recalled.
"That lasted for six or eight weeks. It wasn't that I wasn't getting much better, it was the length of time from not getting much better. I was in an awful lot of pain. We were a long way into the injury and it didn't seem to be improving much."
As players filtered in and out of the rehab room in UCD, Byrne remained a constant. The competition at loosehead prop was fierce enough without the repeated setbacks.
Learning how to run properly again sums up the lengths he had to go to but he has fought back remarkably well and has made six appearances this season, including his first start at the RDS against the Dragons last week.
"That's it, I wasn't running for over 12 months, so there's a lot of things I had to re-learn," the Carlow man explained.
"I remember doing simple cone hops, not getting it right and getting frustrated with myself. The physio is looking at me like: 'Come on, you can do this'. You just completely forget how to do it right.
"There was that element of it, I had to re-train my body how to do certain stuff. Then once the pain went that made the rehab a lot easier, to try and activate certain parts a lot easier and get everything a bit stronger.
"It was a long road, but hopefully that's all behind me.
"It's unbelievably tough. You see games you would have hoped to be involved in and the lads going really well and you say to yourself: 'I'd give anything to be out there.'
"You're coming to games and for a while I wasn't getting much closer to running.
"Lads were going so well and there were some big games where I'd go: 'I'd just love to be out there.' I always dreamed of and hoped I'd be getting involved in.
"It makes it so much more special now to run out in front of the fans and my family for the first time in the RDS as a starter. It was a huge day for me."
Now that he is back in contention, Byrne knows the scale of his next task as he looks to somehow get in ahead of Cian Healy and Jack McGrath.
"It makes it a lot more special," he added.
"Once you've been through that, you don't take anything for granted. I don't look more than one week ahead.
"I keep taking it week-by-week and hope to get the nod to get the minutes under the belt. But yeah, I'm absolutely loving it at the minute."
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