At 18 years, 8 months and 20 days, Adam Byrne is the youngest player to ever represent the Leinster senior team. His rise to the top has been rapid, however unheralded to the same degree as that of previous teenage debutants, Luke Fitzgerald, Andrew Conway, and to a lesser extent, a one Brian O’Driscoll. Uniquely, however, Byrne, the latest addition to the seemingly endless conveyor-belt of Leinster back three rugby players, only took up the game at 16.
A former Manchester United academy member and keen Gaelic Footballer, Byrne only took up the game after being suggested to by a friend following a move to Naas from Dublin. He also cites the added incentive of missing school hours as an additional motivational factor. He joined Naas Rugby Club where he was quickly spotted by selectors for the Leinster Regional team, eventually leading to his selection for the Leinster Youths team. All this while playing a year above his actual age group. He credits playing the extra year of Leinster Youths rugby as an serious advantage in terms of developing his skill set on the pitch and physique in the gym. One assumes it is modesty which prevents him from acknowledging that in order to play a year above your actual age group, you have to be quite talented to begin with.
Incredibly it is just five months ago that Byrne was training and playing with the Leinster under-19s side. Byrne thinks that his omission from the under-20s squad led him to play in the under-19s Interprovincial Series with what he described as ‘’a kind of chip on his shoulder’’. A strong performance for the 19s was rewarded with a place in the Sub Academy, which was in many ways the spring board of his current success.
His first involvement with the senior side came when the team travelled to Ravenhill to face high flying Ulster. He got the call from Joe Schmidt on Wednesday. He explained how the conversation began cordially enough, with Schmidt asking how his exams were going, whether he had an exam the following day, and would it be possible for him to come to some of the Captain’s run the following day because ‘’oh yeah, you’re on the bench on Friday night.’’ At first he thought it was a joke and went as far phoning one of the Strength and Conditioning coaches to confirm that the phone call he received was from the man himself. A precaution which received some stick from the senior players.
He did not in fact make his debut that night and while he is not saying that he didn’t want to play, he was happier that he didn’t because he felt that he may have been exposed due to his lack of preparation and familiarity with the team’s patterns. Ten days later, when the side met Connacht in the RDS, he was again named on the bench. This time, he was chomping at the bit to get on. He recalls just looking at the clock, thinking ‘’Put me on, put me on, please put me on.’’ He was surprised by how quickly he settled into the game. ‘’It’s actually much more relaxed than you’d think,’’ he claims, ‘’Ian Madigan was just there calling moves and throwing the ball around.’’ The night finished with him singing ‘’I Got A Feeling’’ by the Black Eyed Pees, in celebration of his first appearance.
With respect to the future, the second year engineering student isn’t getting ahead of himself. He unfortunately broke his ankle recently and his main aim is to recover for selection for the Under-20 World Cup which takes place this summer in France. He is aware of the element of luck that was involved in his selection for the senior team and suggests that he is aware he may not play for them again for a while due to the return of various players to fitness. However there’s no doubt that this talented young player will be faced with plenty more chances in the future.