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'It felt like a first cap again' - Adam Byrne reflects on a dream return for Leinster

The wing scored two tries in an encouraging display against Zebre.

Byrne crossed for two tries against Zebre.
Byrne crossed for two tries against Zebre.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IN THE DAYS leading up to his long-awaited return to the Leinster team, Adam Byrne reckons he received a goodwill message from not just every one of his teammates, but every single member of staff out at Leinster HQ.

One of the most meaningful arrived on Friday evening.

“Let’s go do this, buddy.”

The sender was Dan Leavy, a player who knows full well how difficult the long road back from injury can be.

Byrne took the message on board, and delivered in some style. His two tries against a desperately limited Zebre side naturally stole the headlines on Saturday, but even more encouraging was Byrne’s constant desire for work across an energetic 80-minute display.

The wing looked hungry for ball and was keen to make something happen when in possession, something which will have pleased head coach Leo Cullen, who had told the player to “back himself” ahead of his return.

“I feel great, yeah, it was a big moment for me personally and my family, and I think the guys during the week, they made it special for me,” said Byrne, speaking shortly after a quick lap of the pitch where he got to share a special moment with his family and also some childhood friends from his hometown of Kill, who had snapped up a batch of tickets following the news he was back in the team.

“It felt like a first cap again but I really took it in and enjoyed every moment of it, I enjoyed the whole day, the whole build-up and the match as well.

I grew up watching Leinster, I remember sitting in the South Stand behind the goal watching them play London Irish and it was a faraway dream. It’s only when it’s taken away from me it set in how much it meant, hopefully I’ve a few more years left in me.”

Saturday could hardly have gone better for Byrne, who profited from two clever pieces of play from the hugely influential Johnny Sexton, crossing for his first try just before half-time before swooping in for a second after Sexton nestled a pinpoint crossfield kick into his arms.

“Yeah, I definitely owe him a couple of pints!

“The first one kind of happened quick, you’re in the moment, but the second one, the kick, I was twitching, it felt like it was in the air for ages and then I was like, ‘I’ll try and get it closer for him, for the kick’ but I was just happy to dot it down.

“It would be really nice personally to get the try coming back, but just to put on the boots and get out there for the warm-up when we were running out and seeing the Leinster supporters cheering your name, cheering you on, I couldn’t even feel my legs there was that much adrenaline going through me. I loved it.”

adam-byrne Byrne was a constant threat against the Italians. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With the milestone of that first game back now out of the way, Byrne will have time to set his targets for the season. At 27, there is plenty of miles left in the engine, but Byrne is understandably cautious of looking too far down the line.

“The short term is pretty simple, I just want to get back playing and training well, and then any opportunity I get I just want to take it.

“And to be honest the long term, I’ve probably gone away from setting specific goals but I know the standard I want to play to for myself and wherever that brings me, I’ll be happy with that. But I just want to get back out there and show the best of myself.”

Byrne recently spoke to The42 about the important role his family and friends played during his time out of the game. On Saturday evening, he stressed that point again, while also reflecting on the challenges presented by the last two years.

“It’s been tough. It’s definitely been challenging, that’s the word, because it was a series of injuries, I thought initially it could have been four weeks and it kind of stretched on, so I was dealing with the ups and downs.

But when I reflect on it now I’ve definitely taken stuff from it. At the time it was hard, I tried to just flip my mindset and take it as a challenge and an opportunity to kind of work on different things, and it’s only when I reflect on it now that I take a lot of things from it, my family and my close friends, how much they mean to me.

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“I probably took it a little bit for granted, just a little bit when you’re playing every week and it’s only when I look back on it now, having them there for me, meant everything.

“And I tried to keep a positive outlook throughout the whole thing, I gave myself a couple of days for every injury to feel shit and then I’d move on, try and flip it and take it as a challenge.

“And yeah, whatever, not just in rugby, it will definitely stand to me in life because it is moving forward. But my family and friends meant a huge amount to me during that.”

Byrne previously struggled with the idea of enjoying the occasion, but comes back to the game with a new attitude.

“If I start focusing ahead too much, I’m able to catch myself. So I really just take each moment as it comes. 

“It was probably only Friday or the day before where the nerves started setting in. But I don’t feel like (I’m making up for lost time), I just want to enjoy every moment and try give my best, and wherever that takes me, I’ll be happy with that.”

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Ciarán Kennedy

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