David Byrne reveals he skipped surgery to play in latter stages of last year’s championship

The Naomh Ólaf player says there was something special about July’s victory over Kerry

Dublin defender David Byrne has revealed he suffered a cruciate ligament tear during the 2022 season but opted against undergoing surgery. Byrne instead built up the strength around his injured left knee and was able to return for the latter stages of last year’s championship.

The Naomh Ólaf player feared he had suffered a reoccurrence during this summer’s All-Ireland round-robin contest against Roscommon, but the scans came back clear and he featured prominently in Dublin’s 2023 Sam Maguire success story.

Byrne’s ACL tear occurred between the end of the 2022 National League and start of the Leinster Championship. After discussing his options with medical experts, he decided against surgery and incredibly played in Dublin’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final win over Cork in June and the subsequent semi-final loss to Kerry.

“I went the non-surgical route and I managed to get back in time to play against Cork initially,” he recalls. “Then Kerry was maybe 10 weeks after the initial injury, I was kind of heavily strapped and just kind of getting through it but I still managed to play, which was deadly 10 weeks after an ACL tear. Normally if you tear an ACL you have to get surgery, but there are a few studies coming out recently that say actually if you go for the non-operative route the outcomes can actually be better.


“So I went for the non-operative route because I was trying to get back in time for the All-Ireland championship that was coming up that summer in 2022. It’s still something I kind of manage but it’s holding up very well for me. When it happened I was talking to some experts in the field and they were telling me about different individuals, and you’d be surprised there are a few people out there who are playing with no ACLs.”

But he did get a scare in the early stages of Dublin’s round-robin draw with Roscommon at Croke Park in May when forced off the field injured. He spent the rest of the game fearing the worst.

“It was like eight minutes in and there was a particular movement where my foot just kind of got stuck in the ground, and it honestly felt like I had torn my ACL again, I got this really sharp pain up the knee,” recalls Byrne. “Then I was sitting in the stand thinking, ‘I’m going to be gone for the season here, I’m going to need to get surgery on it.’ And once you get surgery it’s six to eight months to get back, maybe even longer.

“But we scanned it up and it was actually looking perfectly healthy, it turned out I had just jarred my knee and was being a bit of a drama queen! I went from thinking that I was going to need surgery on my ACL to finding out it was perfectly fine and I could go back training. It was one of those rare times when you go in for a scan and you get good news. It was a bit of a rollercoaster of a week for me.”

But still just one week in what has been a rollercoaster intercounty career with far more highs than lows. With eight medals already, only three players have garnered more All-Ireland SFCs than Byrne in the history of the game – nine-time winners James McCarthy, Michael Fitzsimons and Stephen Cluxton.

“Sometimes you can pinch yourself and be like that’s an amazing thing to happen,” says the 29-year-old. “I never would have thought I would have had that amount of success.”

And yet despite a decade of glory there was something special about July’s victory over Kerry – the Dublin players celebrated that All-Ireland final win like a breakthrough team, as if it was their first.

“They all have their own little story and there probably is some recent bias here but I certainly feel like this was the sweetest one yet,” adds Byrne. “Maybe just because it was coming off the back of two losses in a row. There certainly were a couple of people speculating Dublin might be a bit of a forgotten force or a spent power. To kind of come out and prove that people were wrong does add a little bit of extra satisfaction on top of it.”

As for the game itself, Byrne would like to see the committee recently established to examine Gaelic football – of which Pat Gilroy is a member – remove the advanced mark.

“I think it is frustrating to watch. I think it was brought in for dramatic catches over the head in the full-forward line but what we have ended up seeing is 20 yard kick passes into the breadbasket, and as a defender it makes it harder to defend a forward. I don’t think it is doing what it was designed to bring in.”

– AIG have been the main sponsor of Dublin GAA’s four codes for the past 10 years. Their partnership with Dublin GAA will come to an end in November.

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times