Naas' Brian Byrne pictured ahead of the AIB All Ireland Club Intermediate Hurling Final.
Naas' Brian Byrne pictured ahead of the AIB All Ireland Club Intermediate Hurling Final.

Brian Byrne relishing Naas adventure

By Cian O'Connell

“It's been fantastic,” Brian Byrne says about a busy, but rewarding time for Naas GAA.

“The club, even the town has had a right good couple of months between county finals back in November, training over the Christmas period, the football Leinster Final in January, the hurling final the following week. The journey has just kept on rolling.

“With playing both of them, myself and James (Burke) have been extremely lucky.”

Another trip to Croke Park beckons on Saturday for Naas, who clash with Kilmoyley in an intriguing AIB All Ireland Intermediate Club Hurling Final.

Having enjoyed success in Kildare with the footballers too reaching a Leinster Club Senior final Byrne relishes the dual role. “I definitely encourage it,” Byrne replies. “I think it's brilliant. Even for any young kids out there it's really important, I think sport is a huge benefactor to their everyday life.

“It's brilliant to get involved in as many things as possible if you enjoy it. Enjoyment is the main thing, there's no point in doing it if you don't get enjoyment out of it.

“For us, myself and James are the only dual lads this year so it kind of meant that we were playing with one set of players and then moving across to another set of players.

“Moving between the two groups gave us that different conversation, that different buzz. Just different people altogether. I don't mean it was nice to get away from one group of lads, but it was nice just to have a different thought in your head and looking towards a Championship match every weekend.”

Games certainly arrived thick and fast for Naas and amazingly this will be the third trip to Croke Park in the space of a couple of months for Byrne.

“It's strange alright,” he says. “When you're looking for so long to win a football county title and the journey that went on and then two games in Croke Park and we felt short in the Leinster Final.

“But we're getting another opportunity now for the guys in the hurling team to tog out in Croke Park. When you're younger you dream of those days. For me it was Kildare, you think it would be brilliant to get to Croke Park with your county team. But to get to Croke Park with your club team and to do it three times this year is pretty special.”

Byrne, a highly regarded performer for Kildare, is aware of the potential that exists in the county. “We got out of the Christy Ring two years ago and then last year had the disappointment of going back down into it,” Byrne states.

Brian Byrne during the AIB Leinster Senior Club Football Semi-Final against Shelmaliers.
Brian Byrne during the AIB Leinster Senior Club Football Semi-Final against Shelmaliers.

“I suppose where we need to look at it from our perspective is getting up there and maintaining that level of consistency to stay in the Joe McDonagh. And then when you're consistently performing at that level, to take a step up to the next level if possible.

“There is that element to it. The Kildare hurling board have put in a serious amount of effort setting up a pathway and working with the clubs closely to ensure the young guys are getting proper coaching. The pathway is getting there and it's slowly moving. The minors have progressed an incredible amount.

“A downside was probably the U-21s where it wasn't getting as much profile as it should have been. That's increased an awful amount now over the last couple of years. The likes of John Doran, Paul Divilly, Eoin Stapleton, Máirtin Boran, Pat Dowling are all putting in a serious amount of time with those guys. We'll only see the fruit of that as those guys get over that U-21, U-20 age-group and jump in with the seniors.

“We'll know then whether the time has been paid off properly. There is that chance. There's that chance in every county that comes along. If you put the work in and have the right people in the right positions, then the development can work very well. For now we're just trying to maintain that level of consistency and make sure we get back up there.”

Further progress can be made according to Byrne. “If you’re looking at three years, you’d be looking at getting out of Christy Ring this year and then maintaining our position in the League,” he replies.

“It’s very competitive in 2A with the Carlows, Kerrys, Downs and Antrims. It’s important that we maintain that level of consistency and that starts with the League. Then you go on and try to get back up to Joe McDonagh where we were last year. Then there are two years in Joe McDonagh.”

Ultimately, Kildare would enjoy an opportunity to hurl in the Leinster Championship. “You’re looking at maybe a couple of percentage points there, to see if Liam McCarthy or the Leinster Championship is a realistic goal.

“If it is then, after a year in Joe McDonagh, you have to go for it. We all want to play at the top level so in three years you’d be looking at maintaining Joe McDonagh and then if possible, there should be no reason why we can’t stretch for Leinster.”

Before that is the small matter of an All Ireland decider with Naas. The family links are strong which makes it so important.

“Grandad would have been a large part of the hurling set-up in Naas,” Byrne says. “Hurling is huge in our family, Jack and Charlie my two cousins are playing as well.

“It’s brilliant but there’s loads of families involved - the Boran’s - there are two of them involved and their father has been with a lot of our teams too. Getting to these finals has brought everyone together, and brought a family edge to the whole team.”

The adventure continues.