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Byrne 'better' for setback

The much-anticipated return may not have gone completely to plan this week - but what’s a few days when you haven’t played for 11 months and a bit, as is the case for the Irishman, Ciaran Byrne.

Byrne is on the cusp of resuming his playing career - a managed load by way of the Northern Blues against Coburg. Come Saturday, the colt from County Louth will take those first few steps down the race and onto Preston City Oval, some 343 days since last committing to the contest.

“To be honest I’m delighted to be back playing any type of footy," Byrne said this week. "It’s been a long time. I’ve been counting the days these past 11 months. I got to the 10-month period where I felt I was pretty much ready to go, but I had to get that four weeks training under the belt before getting back into game time, so as you can image I’ve been itching to get back out there.”

Rewind to the last quarter of the Round 15, 2016 match with Collingwood on the MCG – Saturday, July 2  – in what was Andrew Walker’s 200th senior appearance for the club and Jack Silvagni’s senior debut.

As is often the case with these things, the Byrne-Varcoe incident all looked innocuous – a solid bump inflicted by the latter as the former completed his kick. It’s the sort of thing you see a million times in any game anywhere, and yet it left Byrne, in this instance, with a ruptured anterior cruciate and lateral ligament in his right knee.

A devastated Ciaran Byrne is carted off the MCG after rupturing his ACL. (Photo: AFL Media)

For the 23 year-old Byrne, just 12 matches into his adventure of a lifetime, the timing could not have been worse. Whereas Sam Rowe is already back walking barely a fortnight after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee against Fremantle, Byrne’s leg was immobilised in a brace for the first 12 weeks due to the added damage.

Then there’s the emotional baggage that comes with it.

“I’d be lying if I said it was easy. The past 11 months has been a pretty tough period, but I feel like I’ll be a better player and a better person because of it,” Byrne said.

“There was a period pre-Christmas where I found it pretty tough where I didn’t see a training session and spent every day just trying to get my leg back up and going . . . long, monotonous days of single leg squats, day in day out, from six to five.

“But I got through that period and got home to Ireland for Christmas to see family and friends and I was rejuvenated. When I came back after Christmas I saw light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn’t long before I was back into training. That’s when I felt part of the group again and felt pretty close.”

It is here that Byrne acknowledged the support of his fellow Emerald Islander Ciaran Sheehan, and the knowhow of Physical Preparation Manager Joel Hocking and Physiotherapist Daniel James, amongst others. As he said: “There’s no doubt that without them here I wouldn’t be where I am now. I’m back and I’m ahead of schedule”.

And so, the Blues’ much-loved half-back flanker, who showed so much in that handful of games prior to the mishap, knows that he’s ready to rumble.

Reflecting on that block of senior appearances, Byrne knew he was building momentum, “and it was probably by my 11th game that I felt that I was becoming part of that back six”.

“It was all a bit unfortunate because I felt a lot more confident at that stage.”

The popular Irishman has quickly endeared himself to the Carlton faithful. (Photo: AFL Media)

The sheer joy of just getting out there again overrides anything else for Byrne right now, which is why the man’s reluctant to put a time frame on his senior return. What Carlton onlookers can expect is that ballistic type of game that has so endeared Byrne to his senior coach and everyone else for that matter.

“Since day one Brendon Bolton has always said to me he likes players who play on instinct. He likes those sort of players coming off half-back and that any chance I get to use my pace off that half-back line has got to be good for the team,” Byrne said.

“You’ve just got to play your role for the team and whatever I can do for the team I’ll put my head down and hand up.”