Sunday 15 September 2019

O’Byrne: 'We have worked hard towards winning silverware'

Champions Cup seal of approval has given Cork Con hooker a massive boost this season

Kevin O’Byrne enjoyed B&I Cup success last season. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Kevin O’Byrne enjoyed B&I Cup success last season. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Munster's 24-24 draw with Ulster at Thomond Park on April 28 may have seemed a rather underwhelming result from the outside in, but the make-up of the home side's starting 15 that day points to a very exciting future.

Head coach Johann van Graan has helped develop the young talent behind the scenes and he gave seven of the B&I Cup-winning side from last season their chance in that big interprovincial derby.

And although hooker Kevin O'Byrne missed the cut for the interpro, he is another one of that team that has become a big part of Van Graan's plans this term.

The 27-year-old scored one of the tries in the win over Jersey, and this season he has played 12 times for the province's senior side, including back-to-back starts against Leicester Tigers and Leinster over the Christmas period.

But for a team that haven't tasted success in the league or Europe since 2011, the experience of those B&I Cup representatives could be crucial in the coming weeks.

"More than anything at this stage, we have worked hard on what we need to work on as a team, we are really working towards silverware," says O'Byrne.

"We've got so close on so many occasions, but we want to top it off and bring silverware back, especially with the disappointment we had in the European Cup.

"We really want to get something out of the PRO14."

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Munster had a brilliant run through the Champions Cup and PRO12 in 2016-'17 but ultimately it ended in disappointment in both. But the Munster 'A' side battled back to beat Jersey and that experience of O'Byrne and his team-mates could be invaluable going forward.

"There are lots of fellas who have come through, young guys like Calvin Nash and Fineen Wycherley, these fellas have pushed onto the first team and that's very exciting," says O'Byrne.

"And the B&I Cup victory is up there. Robin Copeland said before the final in the dressing room, 'You don't get many chances to win medals in professional rugby'.

"It is a professional competition and it was great to win that with some great friends.

"We played some exciting rugby and that showed in the final when we came back to win, backed ourselves and had a go."

O'Byrne's battle for minutes on the pitch this season has been hard-fought, with so much competition in the Munster ranks, and despite Duncan Casey's exit for France, there are still lots of potential No 2 options.

"At the start of the season there was a point where there was five of us, and there were only two starting positions going, so at one stage if all five of us were fit it would've been hard to even get a B&I Cup place," adds O'Byrne.

"You just have to get on with it. It's great for the club and great for us as players when you have five quality hookers there."


O'Byrne has done it all this season from the Ulster Bank League to 'A' games, PRO14, and then on to the Champions Cup.

"It was great this season I got to contribute a lot more to the team's performances throughout the year. I played in the Leicester game and the Racing one and I was much happier with that this time around," he says.

"I picked up a bit of an injury at the start of the year so I was playing a bit of AIL with Cork Con at the start of the season, a few B&I Cup games as well, and then some first 15 so bit of everything."

But the highlight for the Cork native was his involvements over the festive period, and facing off against Tom Youngs of Leicester in the Champions Cup pool stages, before Van Graan showed his faith with another starting slot against Leinster in the league.

"It was great when Johann came in and give me that bit more confidence to have a start against Leicester. And that was the unbelievable experience, the excitement leading up to it and getting the win was outstanding," says O'Byrne.

"I had been the 24th man in European games before and came on against Racing 92 in the previous home game. But it was great to get that level of confidence from my coach.

"To give you such a level of belief as a player would you play in the European Cup in Welford Road."

O'Byrne played almost an hour in that famous 25-16 win at Leicester and as the good times continue to roll he knows there is still plenty of room for improvement in his own game.

"I have lots of work-ons and I just need to get my hands on the ball that bit more. I need to improve my attack more than my defence," says O'Byrne.

With the summer holidays fast approaching, no one at Munster is thinking about the break until they take the scalp of Leinster, and silverware in the PRO14 final against either Glasgow Warriors or reigning champions Scarlets.

It's an intriguing end to the season again, and when they finish up O'Byrne will turn his mind to 2018-'19 and putting himself in the best possible position to stake a claim for the No 2 jersey.

"I like to do a bit of surfing and kayaking when I'm off, but I'll try and stick to the routine as much as I can," says O'Byrne.

"We get four or five weeks off but there is a training plan there to make sure we don't fall off completely. It's great to switch off but you have to keep your mind straight too.

"There are four very good hookers here so you have to make sure you come back in good nick."

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