Louth forward Declan Byrne. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
Declan Byrne has become the 25th player to reach a century of appearances for Louth.
The St. Mochta’s man entered the exclusive club in the pre-Christmas O’Byrne Cup fixture against Wexford and scored two points on his 101st ‘cap’ in Wicklow last weekend.
He follows team-mate Derek Maguire, who achieved the feat during last year’s National League campaign, in reaching three-figures, but remains a significant margin behind the all-time leading appearance maker, the late Stephen Melia (179).
“I knew I was in or around it so it’s nice to get to the milestone, there are not too many lads who played 100 times for Louth,” he said following Saturday’s victory.
“It’s all about putting that jersey on and we’ve had a few memorable days and a few not so memorable, but any time you put a Louth jersey on, it’s a good day.
“To be the 25th man, that’s a small pool. Legends like Stephen Melia and Aaron Hoey, Stephen Melia has 179. You’re in that bracket now, in that pool. It’s a lovely milestone to reach.”
The 29-year-old made his senior debut for the Wee County in 2009 before making his championship bow a year later, in the opening round victory over Longford at O’Moore Park.
Louth reached their first Leinster final in 50 years that summer, with Byrne featuring off the bench in the controversial final defeat to Meath.
His first championship start came at right corner-back in the surprise loss against Carlow 12 months later and apart from a spell away in 2013, where his brother, Ciarán, rose to prominence, last season’s intermediate championship final hero has been an everpresent for the Reds, winning the Player of the Year award in 2015.
By following in the footsteps of his father, Brendan, into the inter-county fold, Byrne set a trend, with all three of his younger siblings having subsequently pulled on the red jersey. Sisters Aoife - a former Louth captain - and Eimear have filled central positions in past seasons, while Ciarán - a recent returnee after five years with AFL giants Carlton - will resume his Wee County career once recovered from his broken ankle.
The prospect of lining out alongside the man five years his junior is an appealing one for Byrne considering his gap-year coincided with Ciarán’s brief spell playing under Aidan O’Rourke.
“We’re driven by football in our house and all of us have played (for Louth).
“It’d be nice to get Ciarán back and get a game or two with him before I hang the boots up.
“But I’ve no inclination of hanging them up just yet. I want to achieve something this year and maybe get Louth back to Division Two. The league is our championship like any year and we want to compete.”
In terms of highlights, he regards a certain 2017 league victory at the Home of Hurling (Thurles) as his top experience.
“We’ve been starved of success throughout the years. The day in Tipperary where we got promotion is right up there with any of them, though.
“We went down and there wasn’t a whole pile expected from us, but we came out on the right side, beating a top team. That’s one day that I certainly will remember.”
Christmas remains in the rear-view mirror, yet Louth have played two competitive matches already, both of which saw Byrne injected into the fray off the bench. In his 10th season at the elite grade, commitment levels continue to soar.
“Commitment now, when I started it was three or four nights a week, but it’s five and six now.
“It’s madness and we’re coming from a county that’s not overly successful which makes it very difficult to get lads out.
“But it’s an honour at the end of the day and if you really want to do it, it’s December 29, it’s never easy to come out and play football at this time of the year.”
Eighty of his 101 appearances were starts, while he has played in every outfield line.