- Born 17 January 1972 Dublin
- Educated Oatlands College, Dublin University College, Dublin
- Occupation Actuary
- Debut 23 July 1997 v England ECB at Amblecote, Stourbridge
- Cap Number 609
- Style Right hand bat
- Teams Leinster, Pembroke
Johnny Byrne, one of three cricket playing brothers, sons of a cricket playing father, was a good upper order batsman, who might be counted unlucky to have played only three times for Ireland, the circumstances of the matches in which he played conspiring against him.
His school, Oatlands College was not a cricket playing one though it was also to produce Railway Union and Ireland all-rounder Kenny Carroll as well as a number of other well-known sportsmen. However the age groups teams at Observatory Lane, and enthusiastic family participation, meant that he did not lack cricket as a boy and he was able to show his potential in the U15 interprovincial tournament in 1987 when he made 56 against the North West, putting on over 100 for the first wicket with Jimmy Dunne. Thereafter the batting failed but though NW needed only 130 to win, they too found conditions far from their liking and were all out for 97. The following season saw Johnny in the first of his four seasons in the South Leinster U19 side and immediately showing his class with a top score 53 against local rivals North Leinster at Anglesea Road. He batted well in partnership, not for the last time in his career, with Brian O'Rourke, as they took the hosts to a 5 wickets victory.
However his best performances at this level were probably seen in the Youth International Tournament in Canada in 1991, a series of matches in which the Ireland won two but lost to other sides whom they would now be confident of beating. His three notable innings included two in games which Ireland won. However his first came in a heavy defeat at the hands of the Netherlands who won by 9 wickets against an Irish side for whom only Johnny, top score with 43 and David Cooke (42*) batted with real confidence. Against Denmark Johnny was run out for 47, a crucial innings as Ireland won narrowly by 4 runs. His best innings, though, was reserved for the final match in which Ireland defeated the hosts by 7 wickets. They owed much to Johnny whose top score 91* meant that they had few problems in winning by 7 wickets. As he had also made 37, second top score to Neil Carson's undefeated 70, in a match lost to Bermuda by 5 wickets, he was certainly one of the successes of the tournament.
He was seen at his best for the Ireland U21 side against the Irish Universities in College Park in 1993 when, coming into the side as a late replacement he hit what the Irish Cricket Annual describe as "a fine century." Opening the batting with Gordon Cooke (58) he put on 134 for the first wicket and then a further 75 for the second with Peter Davy (35) before eventually falling for 114, having batted for 205 minutes and, facing 193 balls, hit 11 fours.
That innings gained him a place on the U21 tour of the English Midlands under the captaincy of Neil Doak. Besides Johnny and Neil, the side contained six others who were to win Irish caps. His best performance was a stylish 59 against Staffordshire U21 at Longton CC Stoke on Trent, a ground which as this writer recalls from watching a Gillette Cup match there in 1971, can be somewhat exposed and gloomy. Johnny and Gus Joyce felt no ill effects from the elements however, putting on a vital 110 for the second wicket as Ireland successfully chased down the hosts' 230 to win by 3 wickets. Three years later Johnny captained the Ireland Development XI in two one day matches against the Universities, making a fine 63 in the first match before being run out, having put on 115 for the 3rd wicket with Peter Gillespie who finished on 72* as the Development side won by 8 wicket.
In Leinster senior cricket for the Leinster and Pembroke clubs, Johnny scored 6692 runs at 25.93 with 5 hundreds and 42 fifties. His best season, while still in Leinster colours, was 1998, the year after his three Irish appearances, when he aggregated 781 runs at 48.81, with 7 fifties including two undefeated knocks in the 90s. He played a major part in Leinster's winning of the Senior Cup, with a Man of the Match performance in the semi-final against Rush away. Rush were bowled out for 150 but Leinster found the going hard also and were glad to win by 3 wickets, owing much to Johnny whose 50* saw them to the Final against Malahide at Sydney Parade. Malahide were dismissed for 194, the peripatetic all-rounder Hendy Wallace taking 3-44.
Then Johnny and his brother Joe put on a match winning 128 for the second wicket before Johnny was caught off Conor Armstrong for 72. Joe, man of the Match, finished on 75* as Leinster won by 7 wickets. Johnny and Wallace were also involved to good effect in a big win over YMCA in the Lewis Traub League. Batting first, Leinster posted a formidable 247-7 with Johnny contributing an undefeated 90. The West Indian then made light of the vaunted YM batting line up with 7-34 to secure the victory.
Johnny also showed to good effect in the Irish Senior Cup for both his clubs. Thus in 1997 he played a major role in Leinster reaching the Final. In the first round he hit a magnificent (Man of the Match) 120 against Cork County setting up an 89 runs victory. He followed this with good scores against tough opposition from the North West, 44 in an 8 wickets win over Brigade and 53 in a 64 runs win over Strabane in the quarter final. Leinster eventually lost the final to Limavady by 10 wickets, Johnny not being alone among his team-mates in failing in this match.
We may choose two of his several good performances at this level for Pembroke. In 2003 a strong Clontarf side provided the opposition in a second round match and, with Greg Molins and Thinus Fourie each passing 50, made 205-7. In reply Pembroke struggled against the same two players, each of whom took 3 wickets, however, in a tight finish, John stood out making 70 to bring a one wicket victory.
His last innings of note in this, or any other senior competition, came in his final season 2005 when Cork County again felt the full force of his stroke play in a first round match at Sydney Parade. He came in at 0-1 after Joe had fallen to the first ball and proceeded to dominate the innings until he was 4th out with the score on 194 caught behind off John Power for 104.
He made his senior interprovincial debut in 1990, though two years were to elapse before he cemented a place in the South Leinster side. His first innings of prominence came that season in a low scoring match against Ulster Country at Bready when he and Angus Dunlop added a crucial 55 for the 4th wicket, Johnny making 34 and Gus 46 in a score of 126 all out. UC then fell to the medium pace of Alan Lewis 6-21, being all out for 84. Later in the season Johnny made 58 against Munster at the Mardyke, sharing in stands of 52 with O'Rourke for the second wicket and 66 for the third with Dunlop. Together with Lewis, Johnny and Dunlop also both made half centuries in a one wicket win over the North West at Observatory Lane in 1997, a change of format in the competition now meaning that there was only one Leinster side.
However it had been for South Leinster two seasons earlier that he had made his highest score at this level. This was against North Leinster at Phoenix and the South began disastrously losing three key players with hardly a run on the board. Dunlop going for 4, O'Rourke for 5 and Lewis for 0, the last named being run out. Johnny then joined Peter Davy and no further wickets were lost as they took the score to 282. Peter, in one of his most destructive moods, making 159 and Johnny, also showing a wide range of strokes, exactly 100.
His three matches Ireland all came in 1997 and might well be said not to have given him a fair chance to display his talents to the best advantage. His debut, rather surprisingly in place of Dunlop, came against the England ECB XI at Stourbridge in the Triple Crown, Ireland, needing only 210 to win, began well but then fell behind the required run rate. Johnny came in at No 6 to join the more experienced Justin Benson but they could only add 26 in 7 overs. Johnny made 18 before being caught by the former Kent wicket keeper Stewart Waterton, flashing outside the off stump.
Against Wales the following day he did not bat as rain ruined the match, though Ireland avoided the wooden spoon by winning the resultant bowl out. He retained his place for the three-day match with Scotland at Malahide which proved to be an excellent match played in good weather after a delayed start. Making 7 in the first innings, he had to look for quick runs in the second innings as Ireland were about to declare. He was on 12 when the closure was applied. The match ended in a draw with the Scots set 274 on 247-9.
John Edward Byrne did not play for Ireland again. It might be argued that he did not take the opportunities presented to him but considering the situations in which he had to bat, the rain against Wales, and his form the following season, it could well be argued that he might have been given at least one more opportunity. As we have seen, however, he continued to be a prolific scorer in Leinster cricket for several seasons to come.
Edward Liddle, May 2013