Byrne hits back at International Rules critics

Former DCU student Ciaran Byrne has defended the recent International Rules series in the wake of a mountain of criticism being levelled at the event. Byrne, a fixture of Paul Earley’s squad this year, argued against the notion that there is no pride attached to playing for Ireland in the compromise sport.

“Putting on an Irish jersey is the greatest achievement Gaelic players can achieve in Ireland. It’s a great achievement for us to represent our country, our clubs, our counties and our families just to put on an Ireland jersey and play in front of big crowds and compete against sportspeople who are playing a professional sport; we’re up against the best. It’s a great opportunity for us players to play against professional people.”

The series, which Ireland won by over 100 points on aggregate, was greeted with harsh criticism from all corners and Byrne revealed his disappointment with both the standard of opposition and the public’s reaction. However, the attendances for both games weren’t as unsatisfactory.

“We got a decent crowd in Croke Park and Breffni Park was pretty full as well so it was a good series but the Australian team didn’t come as we expected them to. Their intensity wasn’t great but we came out at the right end of the result.”

Public interest in the series has seemingly been hampered since the game lessened its aggressiveness and Byrne believes that the physicality has to increase for the concept to survive.

“A lot of people want to see a more physical game I’d suppose. You saw it in Croke Park, the first 10 or 15 minutes of the game was a lot more physical and the crowd were getting into it. They (the crowd) kind of like that aspect of the game. I think it does have to be more physical for the series to continue but it looks like the series is going to continue for next year anyway so we’ll see how that goes.”

A fresher footballer for DCU last year, Byrne lined out alongside his former coach Ross Munnelly against the indigenous Australians. The relationship built up in Glasnevin last year was hugely beneficial throughout the series, according to Byrne.

“It’s great to be playing with Ross, he’s one of the best footballers in the country and you’ve seen that in his last two performances, he’s been serious and he’s a great ambassador for me over the past couple of years as well. Spending time with him this year and he was my coach last year, it’s been a great experience.”

Having signed a professional contract with AFL side Carlton, Byrne is Australia-bound in January. It is a move that is exciting yet nerve-racking for the Louth man.

“It’s going to be a daunting experience but it’s one that I’m really looking forward to as well, but I’m really looking forward to the aspect of just learning the game and just getting to know the boys at the club and I’m really looking forward to it now.

“It was just an opportunity I couldn’t turn down, and hopefully one day I come back and play with my county, but for now I’m going to try and pursue a professional career over there in Australia.”

Meanwhile, Byrne disagrees with decisions made by certain Irish players in the AFL to not return home for the International Rules series, confirming that he will play future series when given the opportunity.

“It’s kind of depending on their own situation, but it’s a once-off opportunity to represent your country, so if I got the opportunity, I definitely, definitely would come home and put on the Irish jersey, but it’s up to them. It’s their decision really.”

Eoin Sheahan

Image credit: Sportsfile

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