SHANE BYRNE:’ Playing for Ireland is just absolutely amazing’
Pic Caption – Inpho.ie for the image/ Dan Sheridan.
By Brenda Woods
Former Irish rugby union hooker, Shane Byrne is a man who never quits. He knows what it takes to be the best and to never give up.
His rugby career is a shining example of his brilliant mind and his patience when the going gets tough. Among his achievements are a winning the Triple Crown in 2004, scoring two tries in a game against Wales, and the New Zealand Lions Tour in 2005. But getting his first international cap, in 2001 against Romania, was his finest.
“Patience and hard work,” says Shane referring to the qualities needed to make up an illustrious career.
A native of Aughrim in Wicklow, this 47-year-old refers to himself on Twitter as: “Ageing, slowly rounding ex Irish rugby player, hubby & dad, trying to make his way back to Aughrim for a pint.” His thousands of followers support his every move.
Affectionately known as ‘Mullet’ – Shane explains his choice of long length hair-style.
“I’m into rock music and heavy metal, in particular Metallica, and my hair followed it from the early days. I hate short hair on me. I don’t like the look of it. In fact, the last time I had my hair cut short I was 14 and going for the Junior Cup team. And we lost.”
That may have been the only time he lost.
Shane was brought up playing Gaelic football to under-16 level with his local Aughrim club. He attended Blackrock College in Dublin and started playing rugby at the age of 13. However, the real interest only arrived when he was 17. He joined Blackrock Senior Rugby Club when he was 21. From there, he played 18 seasons with them and 14 seasons with Leinster.
He got called up to the Irish Squad in 1993, but it would be a long wait until he got that first cap for his country. While he would go on to become an Ireland legend and earn a Lions call-up to the 2005 tour to New Zealand, Shane had to bide his time before earning his first international honour.
He has fond memories of Keith Wood blocking his path for much of his career. “It wasn’t just Keith, it was a myriad of players,” he says good-humouredly. “I could say there were six players ahead of me.”
So, how did he keep persisting? “Rugby became an absolute obsession for me. Towards the end of the 1990s, I was single-minded”.
He had been on the verge of making the squad against Wales away in 1995 and in 1997, but being a regular at Leinster, he just kept persisting. I was with Leinster for such a long time and they had a lot of patience. You keep going and the adversity spurs you on.
“You get better, so you can pass the others; then there is no doubt that you are the best man for the job. Also, it’s important to have patience. Remember, you will get the knock-backs – it will happen.
“It wasn’t until my coach Joe Mac had a talk with me that things changed. He said ‘If you give up you’ll never get there. But if you keep going, you just might’.”
That was a game-changer for Shane. “I stopped worrying about things I could not control and got ready if the opportunity knocked. In the space of a year, the opportunity did knock.”
Ireland won the Triple Crown in 2004. “Nothing really compares to the first time you hear your national anthem played in the Six Nations at home. Hearing the anthem is a huge, huge thing,” he says.
“Sometimes, you think that it is very public standing out there. But when you are out there you only think there’s no-one else but you and you are in it; the anthem is such an emotional experience. The minute the last note is over, you just want to get into the game. At that moment, you feel this is just about you.”
“You think, you are not going to shed a tear. But you look down the line and everyone else is going through the same thing. All battling the emotions at the same time. Some of the players stand in silence, so it’s about whatever works for you. It’s like being in the perfect place.”
He continues: “Playing for Ireland, is just absolutely amazing.
“There is physicality in the game now. Guys are stronger and you have to build your muscles up. When they collide it is an enormous collision. That is what they want in rugby. That’s the way they want it. A physical game. We would not want the game pacified anymore. There are rules in place to protect the players.”
Shane went on to make 41 appearances for his country, including playing every game in the 2004 Championship, as Ireland missed out on the title to Grand Slam winners France.
Shane is now living the good life in Dublin. Off the pitch, he is now spending many a Saturday on a very new sideline – coaching his 15-year-old twin daughters’ (Kerry and Alex) local rugby team.
“The girls are into everything, they play lots of sports,” he says. “But it was strange that when they started playing rugby, they needed a coach – mid-season.” Shane laughs.
He’s married to Caroline, originally from Monaghan. “We met in 1990 at the Regional Technical College in Dundalk. It was at a Fresher’s Disco.” Caroline was going out with someone else and Shane had to wait. He was studying mechanical engineering in the college and loved it.
“Life is good,” he says commenting that he is now involved in a family 37-year-old waste management business – MD AWD Waste Solutions Ltd.
On the other side of the rugby fence, Shane is heavily involved in charity work and has also made an appearance in Mrs Brown’s Boys d’Movie. “I know Brendan O’Carroll for a long time and he said ‘I’ve a part for you in my movie.’ He asked me to just come down and have a look. It turned out I was a Russian bodyguard.”
His charity work includes, among a long list: Temple Street and our Lady’s Hospice. He is also an Ambassador for ‘Fighting Blindness’ and patron of GOAL, the International Humanitarian agency.