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'It was a great moment for the house - Josh beating the All Blacks and us playing in Zebre'

Adam Byrne on living with three Leinster team-mates and his bright start to the season.

Byrne celebrates with Tom Daly in Parma.
Byrne celebrates with Tom Daly in Parma.
Image: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

ONE BY ONE, four of Leinster’s academy products have stepped up, seized their chance and made their mark for the province at the highest level.

It’s not an unremarkable, or unique, feat given the systems and traditions in place at the club but the fact Josh van der Flier, Peter Dooley, Adam Byrne and Tom Daly all live together, it’s been a pretty special few weeks for the housemates, and team-mates.

At this stage, van der Flier needs no introduction. The 23-year-old has emerged as one of the most exciting young flankers in world rugby and demonstrated his prodigious talent with impressive displays against the All Blacks both in Chicago and Dublin.

His career has been an upward trajectory since he broke onto the scene at the start of last season and his performances have helped inspire the rest of the house into something similar.

Dooley has shown good promise, too, and has made 26 appearances for Leo Cullen’s side over the last two seasons.

Byrne and Daly have had to show greater patience for their chance but with the latter making his debut against Zebre a fortnight ago and the former scoring a hat-trick in the same game, it was a memorable weekend for the house.

“It was a great moment, and it was a great moment for the house as well,” Byrne recalls.

Josh van der Flier celebrates winning JVDF celebrates the win in Chicago. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“There was me, Peter Dooley, Tom Daly playing in Zebre, and then we had Josh van der Flier, obviously, beating the All Blacks. It was a great moment for the house, and I was delighted for Tom on his first cap to play so well.”

All four were part of the Ireland U20 squad for the Junior World Cup and while they have all remained in the Leinster system to make it to first-team level, each have enjoyed varying degrees of success and fortune along the way.

Byrne and Daly, for example, have spent a large part of the last couple of years involved with the Ireland 7s programme while van der Flier has, as previously mentioned, enjoyed a rapid rise.

Byrne’s story in particular is one of natural talent but also injury frustration. After making his Leinster debut four years ago, it appeared he would make the breakthrough last term when he marked a first start with a try against Zebre at the RDS; he likes playing the Italians.

But anytime the door seems to be opening for him, or indeed hitting a rich vein of form, injury has struck. Already he has bounced back from two broken legs and a series of debilitating hamstring injuries.

So it was heartening to see him grasp the opportunity which presented itself to him in the recent interpro win over Connacht and then that successful trip to Italy. Every time he steps onto the pitch, the flying winger seems to do something exciting.

“I suppose any time I put on a Leinster jersey, whether it be the ‘A’s, underage, or for the senior team, I just love playing for Leinster. I’m definitely enjoying it,” he continued.

Adam Byrne gathers the ball to score his sides opening try Byrne has scored six tries in as many appearances for Leinster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I had a good go in pre-season, I got to play in the pre-season games. Then it’s just up to the coaches whether they pick you or not, but I’ve been plugging away at training and waiting for my opportunity.

“You realise, whenever the internationals are on, a few players leave, so there’s a bit more of a chance for you. I’ve been having conversations with the coaches, and trying my best in training. It’s always good to get an opportunity, and you just have to take them.”

And that he has. Speaking last month, backs coach Girvan Dempsey spoke of Byrne’s mental character to not only come back stronger from those periods on the sideline but find the confidence to produce performances when the door eventually opens.

“I think it’s important to be confident in yourself,” the Kildare native explains.

“Especially to portray it on the pitch. It comes off the back of training, off the back of little chats. Like I said, Isa [Nacewa] has been a great mentor, Zane [Kirchner] has been a great mentor, the two Kearneys, Ferg [Fergus McFadden]. I’ve learnt a lot off everyone in the positions I play in. Just chatting to them in training, they give you good feedback.

“We’re a real tight-knit bunch. There’s that real brotherhood there. We all give each other that confidence, and then it’s just bringing it to the field. It’s great playing in front of a packed RDS. The noise is incredible, but just to hear the common voices saying well done, and giving you a pat on the back, means so much to you.

“It brings you to that next level. I think just little things in training, and just the conversations with the players and coaches, it just builds your confidence.”

That confidence perhaps hasn’t always been there. Being replaced by Darren Sweetnam after 30 minutes of Ireland’s U20 World Cup game against New Zealand back in 2013 is one such example.

Adam Byrne The winger speaking to the media in UCD on Monday. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Looking back, the 22-year-old admits he was like a ‘deer caught in the headlights’ during that tournament as he found himself out of his depth. It was an eye-opener and an experience he learned a great deal from.

“I think I can only take positives from it looking back,” he admits. “That was a big learning curve for me. I’ve used it to kind of push on, and I’d like to think I’m in a better place now. I’d just it has helped me, all those big games, and experiences have just added to me.”

Byrne’s game continues to progress in each outing and Leinster fans will agree that he appears to be growing in stature each and every time he pulls the jersey on. Six tries from six appearances isn’t a bad start, either.

“It was a good milestone,” Byrne says of his hat-trick. “Losing a few of the big players to the Ireland camp, we knew the rest of the squad had to step up. I was just delighted to get the chance, and I knew once I had that jersey on, I had to deliver. It was a great moment for me and the team.”

Massive thanks to @sony for sorting RC1 out with a new PlayStation 👍 @playstationireland

A photo posted by Josh van der Flier (@joshvdf) on

So have the last few weeks been the kickstart Byrne’s Leinster career needed and does he feel he’s now in a position to take advantage and establish himself at the province?

“I think everybody backs themselves in that kind of way,” he answers.

“I can only control what I can control, and do what I can do. I’ll just keep doing my best, and then it’s up to the coaches to decide who they want in, and for what game. I’ll just keep trying to do what I’m doing.”

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Ryan Bailey

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