Byrne hungry to seize chance after McGrath's Kingspan deal
Underestimate Ed Byrne at your peril. The loosehead prop is primed to be the big winner from Jack McGrath's exit to Ulster and, having seen off the Lion, he can start looking towards bigger and better things.
At 25, the Carlow native is late to the breakthrough party. Of his U20 alma mater, Dan Leavy, Josh van der Flier, Adam Byrne, Darren Sweetnam, Rory Scannell, Jack O'Donoghue and Luke McGrath have gone on to win senior Ireland caps but the prop - along with his brother Bryan, one of the highest-rated players from that crop - has had to bide his time.
For one thing, props traditionally develop later than other players even if Andrew Porter, Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy have bucked that trend in recent times.
More pertinently in this case, serious injury has held him back. Briefly, the end flashed before his eyes but he stuck at his task. Now, he's reaping the reward.
"It wasn't far off," he said when asked if he was ever close to packing it in. "I was a small bit in denial saying I wanted to get back, I 100% wanted to get back and give it a go so it wasn't quite as far as that but there were definitely some dark days there.
"It was extremely difficult. It was the toughest thing I had ever gone through. First there was the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and that was 10 months. I thought I was getting back to fitness and then there was another 18 months on top of that, the patellar tendon problems.
"I didn't realise how long I was going to be so I was setting goals about when I wanted to get back.
"Then I'd go six months and I'd get no closer to playing and I was kind of setting goals along the way and trying to reach a time and for a long time I wasn't reaching any of them which was unbelievably tough.
"But I had good people around with me, in here and at home with my family and my girlfriend."
Patience was needed. While he was rehabilitating, Healy and McGrath were rotating the 1 and 17 jerseys for club and country and looked so far ahead.
Steadily, Byrne made up for lost time off-Broadway; making 16 PRO14 appearances last season and continuing his experience-gathering this campaign.
When McGrath was sent for surgery after November internationals, Byrne got his European chance against Bath. When the Lion returned from injury, he found himself out of the match-day 23 for the key pool clash against Toulouse.
Soon after, he decided to head to the Kingspan. Byrne knows that his departure represents a huge chance for him.
"It's a massive opportunity," he conceded. "My main goal now is to finish the season strongly. This week it is Glasgow so I'll try and put my hand up for the Toulouse week.
"Nothing changes in terms of competitiveness. Everyone wants to play big games. That Toulouse game and the Ulster quarter-final - that was a huge week for me."