Ciarán Byrne looking forward to taking his chances with Carlton in Melbourne
Louth youngster ready to try his fortunes in the AFL
Ciarán Byrne with the Cormac McAnallen Cup, which will be presented to the winners of the International Rules Series. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Last night Ciarán Byrne captained his club, Naomh Mochta, in the Louth intermediate football championship relegation play-off – probably his last taste of club football for some time.
On Saturday, having played such an impressive role in Ireland’s opening victory over Australia in the International Rules Test, Byrne will again line out in Croke Park as part of Paul Earley’s 23-man Irish panel.
Then, still six weeks shy of his 19th birthday, his career will take a sudden and ideally long-term shift Down Under, when he joins up with Melbourne AFL club, Carlton.
It’s almost two years since Byrne received an anonymous phone call at his home in Dundalk, inviting him to attend an AFL recruitment camp, in Limerick. Two years on, having reached the age of 18, he’s ready to take up the Carlton rookie offer.
“I just got a phone call to ask me to a trial in Limerick, with 16 other lads,” he explained. “I did pretty well, in the tests, then got another phone call, the next day. They came to the house and offered me a two-year deal. It came from there.”
It wasn’t a straightforward decision, leaving the comforts of home, yet Byrne didn’t shy away from the opportunity.
“Louth is a small county, and probably in the next couple of years we are not going to win Leinster or All-Irelands. With Aidan O’Rourke there it’s a serious set-up, he’s a good man Aidan and they have been training hard in the last couple of weeks.
“Last year, we had a decent enough year, and hopefully they push on in the last couple of years. I want to come back and play with Louth some day. But it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down . . . We don’t get too many opportunities to play in Croke Park in front of big crowds.
“And I wanted to play professional football from a young age. I spent a year in DCU studying sports science and health. It was very enjoyable and I’m going to miss that. I have deferred my course for three years. Maybe in three years I will return to DCU and play for Louth as well.”
He spent two weeks with Carlton this summer, and his decision to join was helped by the advice of Zach Touhy, also part of the International Rules panel, and who has settled in well in the Melbourne club.
“Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a good time with Zach. I went to Carlton for two weeks during the summer and stayed with Zach as well. He is a good man, and as you saw last Saturday he is a serious player. I think he got man-of-the-match in the end. Zach has been very good to me over the last couple of weeks. It will be good to have an Irishman at the club. . .”
His pro career will actually begin in Arizona in December, for an altitude pre-season camp with Carlton, and then after spending Christmas at home, he’s off to Australia.
“I know a lot of boys went over and didn’t like it. Michael Shields and Ciarán Sheehan and John Heslin and Ciarán Kilkenny, they went over and didn’t enjoy the experience. Hopefully I will enjoy it. If I can get past the first few months of home sickness, hopefully I will be able to enjoy it.”