Byrne relishing fresh Kildare approach
By Michael Devlin
Brian Byrne is intent on winning a ‘home-grown’ All-Ireland title for Kildare as they take on London in Saturday’s Christy Ring Cup final.
Last season, Lilywhites team manager Joe Quaid bolstered his squad with former Kilkenny All-Ireland winner John Mulhall, Tipperary duo Padraic Crone and Dinny Stapleton, and the Reidy brothers, David and Michael, from Limerick, all of whom were based in Kildare.
Under official GAA guidelines introduced in 2006, up to five players from MacCarthy Cup teams are allowed to switch to a county competing in the Christy Ring or Nicky Rackard competitions.
This year, however, a fresh casting call yielded a strong squad of hurlers from within the county, something which team captain Byrne represents a hugely positive step for Kildare.
“It’s probably a bit more of a pride thing in that it’s all us this year,” said the Naas clubman. “Last year, there was mention of the lads coming in and that were they helping us too much, but this year it’s all coming from Kildare and it’s fantastic to see.
“In fairness to Joe and his team, he ran everything by the group the whole time, especially when we brought in those few players. It was a team decision, because lads were going on holiday, and there were lads who just weren’t taking the opportunity to play Kildare hurling.
“This year, I don’t know whether it was that the club scene was good or the young lads were eventually able to play senior hurling, and they were happy enough to step in, but when Joe made the call, a lot more people said yes.
“In fairness to the outside lads, they gave us a huge help last year. They brought a serious skillset to training. This year, it’s good that the players that we have in are from the Kildare area.”
Kildare lifted the Christy Ring Cup for the first time in 2014 after a thrilling 4-18 to 2-22 win over Kerry. However their bid to retain the title the following year was ended at the semi-final stage by a ruthless Kingdom side on a scoreline of 6-27 to 0-09 in Newbridge.
The progress was halted momentarily, but three years on the Lilywhites have worked their way back to an All-Ireland hurling final at Croke Park.
“The progress probably hasn’t been enough since we won in 2014, and it came to a standstill in 2015,” says Byrne. “Then Joe stepped in, and it was tough for him in his first year. This year though there is something different, there’s seems to be a good talk about Kildare hurling.
“John Doran, Paul Divilly, Martin Fitzgerald, all those guys are working around the clock with schools and clubs. The Naas guys are going down to Kilkenny to play league games. There’s a real buzz, and it’s on an upward trend. Hopefully we can promote it from the underage level into the senior level, and guys continue to play hurling for Kildare.
“At the end of the day, all the young ones just want to win games, especially when they see their county heroes winning competitions. It’ll give them an urge to get out onto the field and win ‘our All-Ireland’.”
A step back to reassess things was needed following what Byrne concedes was a disappointing 2018 League campaign, where Kildare slumped to relegation from Division 2A after losing all five games.
“It’s hard to pick up lads, especially how the League went for us. Both Joe and his backroom team, and the lads themselves, they really stepped up to the mark. We took our break after the Meath game, and went back to club hurling.
“Lads were getting game time and the winning momentum started coming in again. We all got back together and put our heads down and worked hard. Ever since then the ball has been rolling.”