Byrne brothers attempt a joint comeback in soccer and rugby
Adam is back in the hunt for Leinster as Sam seeks to make an impression at Glentoran
Adam Byrne at Leinster squad training in Donnybrook, Dublin. File photograph: ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
As a teenager Sam Byrne joined Manchester United in July 2011. Entering the club’s academy, he made his debut for the U18 team away to Southampton the following month.
By then his older brother Adam was a year away from becoming, at 18-years-old, the youngest player in the professional era to play for Leinster in rugby. Five years later Adam would make his 2017 international debut for Ireland against Argentina in the Aviva Stadium.
Brothers in arms, their paths initially diverged, but now, they may be converging.
Sam, via Manchester United, Everton, Dundalk and now Glentoran, has struggled with injury. Adam, having given up on his childhood dream of playing GAA for Kildare, is also on a Leinster comeback following injury. The two talented players are needing to impress at their respective clubs.
“Rugby was just somebody saying to me, ‘Give rugby a go, you might be good at it and you get Wednesday afternoons off.’ So I said I’ll give it a crack. I think it was the end of third year,” says Adam.
“When we played [soccer] it was probably me giving away a lot of frees knocking guys over. Gaelic probably suited me and he [Sam] stuck to soccer. I remember begging my mother not to send me to Newbridge College because they didn’t play Gaelic. The only thing I wanted to do was play in Dublin [at Croke Park] for the Lillywhites.”
Adam is circumspect about the most recent injury to his knee. The best advice given to him was from the departed Isa Nacewa and on the simple concept of living in the moment. In the crucible of the Aviva or the RDS it’s easier said than done.
So too is Adam aware that his brother is living the same piece of homespun wisdom. Being on loan to Glentoran until the end of January could be seen as a backwards slide. But injury too has deprived Sam of pitch time. His move North is because, unlike in the Republic, there is also an operating reserve league.
“He’s having a tough time with injuries as well,” says Adam. “It was great to have [him], especially when we were younger, feeling our way through the different set-ups. I guess on the one hand similar but totally different scenarios. I’d like to think he’s helped me a lot and I’ve helped him where I can. We try to drive each other on.”
Sam used bring home whispered chat of the players at Manchester United. A youngster, even younger than he was, called Rashford. Jokes on holidays of some mythic time in the future when they would all be on Sam’s yacht. Nothing serious, it was all just idle banter. The two sports had similar themes but the lifestyles were miles apart.
“Marcus [Rashford] was actually younger than Sam. I remember him saying he was up and coming and doing really well,” says Adam.
“Even to today . . . we never really had money as the driver. It was what we liked. Gaelic was my first love. Then I started playing rugby and got into Leinster youths. I loved the professional aspect of it. Money was never the main influence.
“Maybe a few jokes when we went on holidays that I wanted him to get a yacht when he makes it. Other than that it was just what we both loved.”
Both are now hoping for more pitch time. After his Ireland debut Adam was sidelined with a knee issue and, he says, it knocked him. What people don’t understand is how hard it is to hold a place and have to fight for it every week with three players who want it, whether in Manchester United or in Leinster.
“To get my chance for Ireland was a dream,” says Adam, a UCD biomechanical engineering student. “I’ll remember that for the rest of my life. But on the back of that I got a pretty bad knee injury.
“I struggled coming back from that trying to lay down a marker. I would have loved to have played in the bigger games at the end of the season . . .”
More pitch time, more games; the brothers set a similar course.