Diarmaid Byrnes ended 2022 as Hurler of the Year, but he began 2023 hurling in the desert.
The Patrickswell clubman took a break from the Limerick squad for the early stages of the league to enjoy an extended holiday in Dubai, where his partner is currently teaching.
But while he was in the Middle East, Byrnes didn’t completely switch off from hurling, instead linking up with the Dubai Celts GAA club. For their opponents, it must have felt like turning up to play Sunday league football only to discover Messi was warming up with the other crowd.
“A friend of mine, Wes Morrissey, he’s the manager of the Dubai Celts and I’ve a good relationship with him,” says Byrnes.
“Kevin O’Brien, a clubmate of mine was out there as well, so look it was a bit of craic. Relaxed, but they take it very serious as well, you’d be surprised at the standard of hurling, it’s very high.
“I played a few games, a bit of training, but didn’t go too mad. It was a tournament style thing, there’s five or six teams and you play them all in your group and then there are finals. We won a tournament, so it was good. Very enjoyable. Nice start to the year.”
Not being allowed score from your own half of the pitch was a restrictive aspect of the rules that one of hurling’s most accurate long-range shooters had to reason with, but the break away has allowed Byrnes recharge ahead of another intense intercounty season.
“I just said I’d switch things up, I’m doing what I’m doing now since I’m 14 years of age, between academies and underage and stuff,” he explains.
“I was only gone for a couple of weeks, it’s not like I was gone for too long. I came home in okay shape, that’s the main thing.”
He made his first appearance of the season for Limerick in their league victory over Westmeath two weeks ago and was back in action for last Sunday’s win over Wexford, scoring in both matches.
John Kiely’s men will host Tipperary at the Gaelic Grounds in a Division One semi-final on Saturday night, with the Treaty County’s form in the competition this season in stark contrast to last year when they really struggled to find their mojo.
“We had a very poor league campaign last year,” concedes Byrnes. “We’re doing okay this year, a league semi-final now on Saturday, I’m really looking forward to it.
“We just played poorly in the league last year, there were one or two red cards. I spoke about this last year as well, our discipline let us down. It was just about learning from that and building on it.”
On a personal note, Byrnes sets out this season building on a brilliant 2022 showing in which he was recognised by his peers as the best player in the country.
He follows in the footsteps of team-mates Cian Lynch (2018, 2021) and Gearóid Hegarty (2020) to have won the Hurler of the Year accolade.
“It was very special,” he says. “It was really special for the family and I’m a big family man, that’s something I’d always relate back to.
“I haven’t really dwelt on it or spoken about it since, this is probably my first interview since that night, it was very special. Tommy Walsh was the last defender to win it so even to be up there with him.
“I suppose backs don’t get much recognition. It was a good thing to see and a nice change as well.”
However, the three-time All Star winner says it was never a target of his to become Hurler of the Year.
“Even winning an All Star, I never even pictured myself doing that or visualised it,” he adds. “Would I have liked to win it? Of course, I would have liked to. But a goal, an ambition? No.
“My priority is the team, the man in front of me, the man beside me, and looking after the group always.
“I know the individual awards are recognition for your contribution to the team throughout the year, and I’m so happy to have achieved it, maybe I’ll look back on it in years to come.
“The mother has it, she took it that night after the All Stars and I’ve genuinely only seen it once or twice since. That’s her baby and it’s special to have that kind of memorabilia for the family.”
Limerick are just two wins away from collecting more silverware, and what would be a third Division One league title since 2019.
But the ultimate target for this group is to become the first Limerick side ever to win four consecutive All-Ireland senior hurling championships.
“People have their own thoughts on where Limerick are at. If we had lost the last couple of games in the league, people would be saying, ‘their appetite is gone’. But if we’re going well, “Jesus, Limerick are flying it”. There’s a balance there. We’re just focusing on every game, really looking forward to Saturday night and hopefully we get the win.”
– Diarmaid Byrnes is a John West Féile 2023 Ambassador.