Tuesday 21 November 2017

Four years ago he became the youngest player to represent Leinster - now Byrne is at the heart of the action

Adam Byrne keeps an alert eye. Photo: Sportsfile
Adam Byrne keeps an alert eye. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

You can trace the remake of the Leinster Young Guns movie back to the home tie with Bath 14 months ago. Doomed to non-qualification, Leo Cullen opened the door suddenly to a raft of greenhorns - Garry Ringrose, Luke McGrath, Peter Dooley, James Tracy, Ross Molony and Josh van der Flier - and the effect sent the fans home happy. They had seen the future and were happy that it was good enough to be the present.

None of that group were in the starting line-up when the campaign had started, and virtually ended with the hammering at home by Wasps, and since then another gaggle of kids has emerged: Rory O'Loughlin, Barry Daly, and Tom Daly. Throw in Dan Leavy, who at last was getting a run free of injury, and Leinster looked like they had enough firepower to blow holes in teams with vastly bigger budgets.

Then along came Adam Byrne. Or rather he emerged for the second time, having disappeared from view the season after making his debut off the bench all the way back in December 2012 - the Joe Schmidt era. And not unlike many of those listed above, Byrne made up for lost time.

Initially he was known as the youngest player ever to represent Leinster. Remarkably it came only four years after he had taken up the sport in Naas Rugby Club. More recently he is associated with Will Greenwood's punt that Byrne should be pitched in to Warren Gatland's Lions squad for New Zealand in June. The gap in between - three whole seasons when he was either injured, playing for the A side or getting the odd run with the seniors - makes it look like he's a new arrival.

"Yeah, I suppose maybe from the outside it can look that it happens quickly but for me in here I made my debut years ago as a young lad," he says. "I felt I had done well for the As - trained well. For me it felt like it was close - it's just the standard of players in here. It's hard to break in and you just have to be ready when you do get your chance."

He is a textbook case in readiness then. Over the space of 11 games at one point this season he scored nine tries. And they had a bit of everything: athleticism, footwork, aerial ability, handling skills. He doesn't appear to have startling pace, rather a collection all the tools that make him good at his trade. And because he is such an impressive, physical athlete, the supporters have taken to him as their poster boy for the new generation. Although they might have cooled a little after yesterday, against Cardiff, where he struggled on a few fronts.

Spending a fair bit of time over the last couple of seasons with the Ireland Sevens operation has served him well. By virtue of the numbers involved in that game you get to do everything more often. Perhaps where some fall down is they struggle to transfer those skills to the 15-man operation where, naturally enough, time on the ball is more than halved.

Byrne however went back and forth to great effect. And with Dave Kearney's season restricted by injury (his return is not far off) he has taken full advantage. With Byrne's younger brother Sam a pro footballer at Everton it makes for lots of note swapping and sharing of advice.

"To be able to talk to him - he has been injured; he's had an unlucky run so I feel like I can offer him some advice, and even stuff like I would ask Ed Byrne (Leinster prop) to get in touch with him. Stuff like that - so it's good. We have a good kind of relationship and are chatting to each other the odd time and we kind of know we can relate to each other a bit better."

Although he came late to rugby Byrne was a Leinster fan as a kid, so he appreciates the position he enjoys now. When Leinster were getting hosed by Wasps at the outset of last season's competition he was tucked away in the background. Now that their profile has been transformed, he is right at the heart of it, and is expected to do good things every time he touches the ball. If he is involved against Wasps it would be an opportunity for more of the same.

"Yeah definitely - they had two good wins against us last year and they've been building on their squad even since then. They have some unbelievable players in their squad. So they're coming to the Aviva: that's our home ground and there's 45,000 tickets already sold so we want to put in a performance in front of them. It's not like we have a score to settle, more like we want to give a performance to ourselves and to our fans especially. And hopefully we'll come out on the right end of the scoreline."

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