Monday 21 October 2019

Twin ambitions Byrne brightly for Carlow pair


Bryan Byrne and brother Ed (right) together after lining out for Leinster in a British and Irish Cup match last year. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Bryan Byrne and brother Ed (right) together after lining out for Leinster in a British and Irish Cup match last year. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

They say identical twins grow apart with age, but Leinster's Byrne brothers are getting closer to each other with the advancing years.

Indeed, in 11 days' time this pair, from the village of Ballickmoyler in Carlow, could create history by becoming the first set of twins to feature in a Champions Cup final.

Bryan Byrne. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Bryan Byrne. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Ed and Bryan wouldn't be the first set of brothers to do so - the Kearneys in 2012 already beat them to it with Leinster in 2012, along with four others, including Bryn and Jan Cunningham with Ulster in 1999 - and there have been four other sets of twins to feature in the PRO14 since their first 2014 outing together against Cardiff.

Nevertheless, even at the grand old age, in rugby terms at least, of 25, theirs would be quite the yarn.

Ed, the loosehead prop, has overcome devastating injuries and latterly seen off competition from 2017 Lions star Jack McGrath to establish himself in Leo Cullen's squad this term.

Bryan is three minutes older, but has waited even longer for his chance to grasp at the big time.

However, Sean Cronin's fitness concerns may open the door to a bench berth in Newcastle alongside his brother.

Given that neither man was even in Bilbao to watch Leinster regain their title last May, it would represent quite a journey for this particular set of Byrne brothers - with young gun out-half Harry hot on the heels of senior star Ross, family ties run deep in Leinster.

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While Leinster were lapping up the plaudits in Spain, the Byrnes were on rather less exalted duty - and a losing one at that - in the final of the British & Irish Cup, the erstwhile breeding ground for interprovincial rugby's lesser band of brothers.

"We were hoping to get it changed but they wouldn't change it," recalls Bryan. "We literally lost the B&I final and had grub while watching the lads win in Bilbao.

"It's a stark contrast, playing and losing and then watching the lads win. But we didn't dwell on it too long when the lads won the Champions Cup."

Instead, they've got down to the business of getting on.

"It's mad how quickly things can change," he says. "I haven't played Champions Cup this season and I've been very disappointed to miss out on numerous occasions.

"It is very competitive between myself, Sean Cronin and James Tracy. Sean's had a brilliant season, but if I do get a chance to play I'd absolutely love it."

Cullen's mantra is that everyone must be ready to step up, regardless of their status or of the occasion that awaits.

"I think we've seen players getting a chance a good bit the last couple of years with lads coming through and the coaches backing whoever is playing well," Byrne attests.

"They don't pick names every week. If lads are impressing in games and in training you don't give them the choice not to pick you. That's the exciting part of it.

"Yeah, it'd be perfect timing. I'd absolutely love to be there, but we'll have to wait and see. When you put on a Leinster shirt you want to win. That's the be-all and end-all.

"You're obviously delighted for the lads playing against Toulouse, but it's not the easiest sitting in the stand every week and cheering them on.

"You want to be involved in big games. You don't want to just make up the numbers."

Sibling representation in rugby is quite common; in the pro era alone Ireland have had the Bests, Kearneys, Easterbys and Scannells, not to mention the three Wallaces wearing green; 10 sets have become Lions, while Scotland have had 49 in their history.


Current Leinster coach Felipe Contepomi and twin Manuel featured for Argentina; so too ex-Munster man Diogo Mateus and his twin David.

For Bryan, Ed's travails - he spent the guts of two-and-a-half-years on the sidelines - have served as a particular inspiration.

"He's had a brilliant couple of seasons, I'm learning from him the whole time," says the hooker.

"He's played in massive games now, he's really taken this season really well.

"I'm delighted for him, it's great to see. He's had tough times in the past.

"I'd back him to the hilt, to be honest, I've watched him playing for so many years. I know how good he is and the work he puts in on and off the pitch, so I was delighted to see him get the opportunity.

"It can happen quickly, sometimes it happens a bit more slowly unfortunately!"

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