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Dublin: 9°C Sunday 29 November 2020
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Ed Byrne on verge of cap to reward his immense feat of perseverance

The Carlow loosehead spent 28 months on the sideline before starting his rise to this point in 2017.

WITH A LITTLE luck, Ed Byrne will reach the sixth anniversary of his career-threatening injury nightmare having succeeded in turning it all around to reach the mountain top.

The Carlow man was today named among the replacements for Ireland’s resumed Six Nations meeting against Italy on Saturday.

His emergence off the bench will mark his international debut, five years and 51 weeks on from the start of an ordeal that almost finished his career as soon as it started.

ed-byrne Dare to dream. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

From suffering his cruciate ligament injury in just his fifth Leinster cap on Halloween night in 2014 and then beyond a gut-wrenching patella tendon injury sustained in the attempt to make a pre-season comeback the following year, Byrne spent a grim total of 28 months out of competitive action.

Of course there were days he couldn’t have dared to dream he would pack down for Ireland in the Six Nations. There was a year when he wasn’t able to run.

***

It’s late November in 2017, Byrne ambles up to a chilly media room in the RDS looking sharp in his club suit, his face a mixture of exhaustion and pride.

The sense of relief is decreasing as he has come through a handful of appearances and eight months since making his comeback from the injury nightmare – when his twin brother Bryan was a fitting companion as he made his way onto the field. But this night marked his first start on home turf for Leinster.

A good time to take stock.

“The days I thought I wouldn’t play again, they were the toughest,” said the younger Byrne twin.

“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.”

The mantra he often leans back on is ‘you just keep going’ and he is surely testament to that. With the help of Leinster’s senior physio Karl Denvir, Byrne effectively rebuilt himself as an athlete. The nuts and bolts of playing rugby would have to wait while he returned to running or even completing a rudimentary hop.

The second (injury) 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.”

“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.

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“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.”

ed-byrne-goes-off-on-crutches Byrne's attempted pre-season comeback n 2015 ended with a gut-wrenching repeat injury to his knee. Source: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

He has unquestionably gone from strength to strength since finding his way back into the game. When he got back in action, he was still the fourth-choice loosehead at Leinster behind Peter Dooley and Jack McGrath. Now he is s genuine positional rival for Cian Healy for club and country.

Coaches love his application. Fans love his dynamic ball-carrying and impact on both sides of the ball, his team-mates hail the energy of his personality in the changing room.

“He’s a massive fighter,” says James Ryan.

“He was 28 months out of the game. There was a space there for two or three months when he thought he might never play again.

“It’s been pretty special for him, having been through all that and to be in a national camp now, hopefully getting an opportunity to represent his country over the next few weeks is pretty inspiring really.”

ed-byrne Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The forthcoming cap is testament to his gutsy perseverance in the face of an arduous road back to full fitness. And also his willingness not to stop there. After naming him in the 17 shirt for this weekend, Andy Farrell hailed Byrne as ‘a student of the game’ and credited his speed in picking up concepts.

His scrum coach at Leinster, Robin McBryde, would set his watch by the loosehead.

“He very rarely makes a mistake. He knows his role inside and out. He’s scrummaged very well and effectively. It’s a very competitive area in Leinster and he’s put a bit of pressure on Cian for the starting spot.

“He’s shown he’s got good footballing ability, he’s got good footwork and he carries the ball to the line, never turns the ball over. ”

He’ll get his chance to put his solid skill-set in front of an international audience this weekend. And for many weekends after that, with a little luck.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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