What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, Bryan Byrne was playing in the B&I Cup final at Ealing’s Trailfinders Sports Ground in front of 1,386 fans.
On the very same day, in the north of Spain, his Leinster team-mates were winning the Champions Cup final in Athletic Bilbao’s San Mames Stadium, with a rather more impressive 52,282 attendance.
Now? Byrne could be in the mix for next month’s Champions Cup final against Saracens, with first-choice hooker Seán Cronin an injury doubt.
A place on the bench would mark Byrne’s first European involvement this season — and he could be joined by his twin brother Ed if he makes it.
Last year, the pair started against Ealing, but this is a final they’d really love to be part of.
“So, we literally lost the B&I final and had grub while watching the lads win in Bilbao. It’s a stark contrast, playing and losing and watching the lads win. We parked our disappointment fairly quick.”
Byrne, 25, has made 14 appearances this season so far, the first time he’s reached double figures in a season, since his debut in 2014.
With Richardt Strauss retired, Cronin and Tracy are his main competition for the No 2 shirt, and his patience could be rewarded with a career high next month if Cronin doesn’t recover from his calf injury.
Making a first European appearance of the season in the final would be quite something, doing it alongside his brother would merely add to the achievement.
“I’m playing with him for however long — probably 18 years...we know each other inside out, it would be unreal,” he said.
“We’d be able to prep each other well for the week, it’d be very exciting for the family as well. I haven’t played Champions Cup this season and I’ve been very disappointed to miss out on numerous occasions.
“It is very competitive between myself, Sean Cronin, and James Tracey. Then you’ve Ronan Kelleher as well, so I’m trying to put my hand up each week.
“Sean’s had a brilliant season, but if I do get a chance to play I’d absolutely love it. You’re obviously delighted for the lads playing, but it’s not the easiest sitting in the stand every week and cheering them on.
Ed Byrne is almost certain to make the bench in Newcastle, after pushing his way past Jack McGrath as back up to loosehead prop Cian Healy.
The forward has enjoyed a stand out season, after coming close to quitting the game two years ago when he endured two long-term knee injuries in close succession.
“He’s had a brilliant couple of seasons, I’m learning from him the whole time,” Bryan said.
“He’s played in massive games now, he’s really taken this season really well. I’m delighted for him, it’s great to see. He’s had tough times in the past. I’d back him to the hilt, I’ve watched him playing for so many years. I know how good he is and the work he puts in on and off the pitch.
“You see Jordan Larmour breaking on to the scene so quickly, Andrew Porter too... it can happen quickly, sometimes it happens a bit more slowly unfortunately!”