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Dublin: 10°C Thursday 15 April 2021

'The days I thought I wouldn't play again, they were the toughest'

Leinster prop Ed Byrne wasn’t able to run for a year, let alone play rugby.

A FREEZING FRIDAY night against a dulled Dragons outfit isn’t most people’s idea of a special occasion. But Ed Byrne isn’t most people and he’s utterly genuine when he says “these are the days I’ve always dreamed of.”

Ed Byrne gets away from Matthew Screech Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

For most, Leinster’s rout of the Welsh region last week was an easy five points or just a nice start to an international weekend.

For Byrne it was a first ever home start almost four years after he made his debut. And it was a landmark that puts further yardage between him and 27 months of injury hell.

From Halloween 2014 to late February this year, barring one luckless would-be pre-season return, Byrne was a permanent fixture on Leinster’s injury list. In that time, his job turned from playing rugby to a constant wheel of rehabilitation in an effort to heal knee and shoulder injuries.

Ed Byrne goes off on crutches Byrne goes off injured in what he hoped was a comeback appearance against Ulster in pre-season 2015. Source: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

“Cruciate and then patella tendon,” the response to a question about his two injuries in one knee rolls off the tongue easier than a date of birth.

Was there pain? Daily?

Yeah, for a long time. You just keep hoping you’re going to get better.”

“The second one was a lot tougher, it’s just a much trickier injury to rehab. My quad wasted away completely and I found it very hard to activate my quad so it made my whole rehab a lot tougher. ”

His diminished thigh meant diminished aerobic ability of course and Byrne wasn’t able to open up into a running stride for a full year. After a break like that it takes time, and enormous patience, to reforge the link between body and mind. And waiting for his legs to synergise and obey his brain was a hugely frustrating hurdle when he did finally get himself back on the training paddock.

“There was a lot of things I had to re-learn. I remember doing simple cone hops, not getting it right and getting frustrated with myself. The physio is looking at me like: ‘come on, you can do this’. You just completely forget how to do it right.

“There was that element of it, I had to re-train my body how to do certain stuff. Then once the pain went that made the rehab a lot easier, to try and activate certain parts a lot easier and get everything a bit stronger.”

As the Carlow man alludes there, he leaned heavily on the assistance of Leinster’s physio team, headed up by Karl Denvir, to keep him positive and progressing when his stint on the sidelines began to feel like it would never end.

“The days I thought I wouldn’t play again, they were the toughest.

“That lasted for six or eight weeks — we were a long way into the injury and it didn’t seem to be improving too much. But the work with Karl Denvir in particular, you just keep going every day.

Bryan and Ed Byrne Twin brother Bryan Byrne helped Ed fight through his injury struggle Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“There was never a day when we said ‘maybe this isn’t it’. We just kept the head down going and kept working and just hoped we’d get to a point by just keeping kicking on.”

With rugby forcibly moved to the back burner for two years, Byrne filled his free time by hitting the books hard instead, going ‘full whack’ into his Commerce degree in UCD. Thankfully, he hasn’t needed to fall back on it yet. There’ll be plenty of time for that.

Through the whole painful period Byrne constantly watched on with a little envy and a lot of determination as his team-mates, who came and went through the injury and rehab process while he stuck spinning wheels, ran out at and felt the irreplaceable acclaim of the crowd.

We speak to Byrne shortly after he emerged from the RDS changing rooms in his blue club suit. He may have played seven times this year since returning from injury, but to start in that number 1 jersey on home turf is a special occasion indeed.

Ed Byrne celebrates his try Ed Byrne celebrates a try in March on his second appearance back from injury. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s unbelievably tough. You see games you would have hoped to be involved in and the lads going really well and you say to yourself: ‘I’d give anything to be out there.’

“You’re coming to games and for a while I wasn’t getting much closer to running or to playing. Lads were going so well and there were some big games where I’d go: ‘I’d just love to be out there’.

“That’s what drove me on to keep working hard. The ultimate goal was to be playing in the team and getting wins like that under the belt.

“When I was injured, these are the days I always dreamed of and hoped I’d be getting involved in. It makes it so much more special now to run out in front of the fans and my family for the first time in the RDS as a starter. It was a huge day for me.

Once you’ve been through that, you don’t take anything for granted. I don’t look more than one week ahead.

“I keep taking it week by week and hope to get the nod to get the minutes under the belt. But yeah, I’m absolutely loving it at the minute.”

“It was a long road, but hopefully that’s all behind me.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Sean Farrell

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