Byrne’s patience pays off as he returns in earnest after foot injury
Dublin defender had a ‘bitter-sweet ’time last year as he watched his team win the All-Ireland from the sidelines
Dublin’s David Byrne: “You have to be on your toes all the time or your performances will slip.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Every Dublin footballer will tell you how much they appreciate the jersey, never taking it for granted or ever once looking past their next game. Yet with David Byrne that rings a little more true.
Byrne was in and out of the Dublin defence for much of 2017, his four championship appearances all coming off the bench, and he looked primed for a starting place last year before being stalled in his tracks – a broken bone in his right foot eventually requiring 10 months on the sideline.
So Byrne didn’t appear at all last summer, still part of the panel and contributing in whatever he could, but no player will tell you that feels the same. He did get another All-Ireland medal for his troubles, and admits that felt a little empty too.
“Yeah, last year I started the first couple of league games, and I felt I’d been going well. It was kind of a weird one. I tried to get back after breaking a bone in my foot. You take six weeks out, to take the weight off it, but then it didn’t actually fuse together, which then knocked me out for the full championship.
“So initially I thought that around this time last year I’d be getting back on the pitch. But it wasn’t to be. To be ruled out with injury is always frustrating. But that’s sport. It can be cruel at times. It was a pretty long 10 months. It should have been less but when the bone didn’t fuse we had to put off the surgery until after September, when the season was over.
“All that makes me thankful to be here today fit and appreciate your health. But, of course, there is a little bit of doubt there as well. I suppose with any injury the more you play on it, the more confident you get on your foot, and your own performance. So the more game and more training you get, the more confident you feel.”
Byrne’s patience has paid off: after making a few league appearances he played every minute of Dublin’s championship campaign so far, taking one of the corner back positions in a defensive line short of the injured Jonny Cooper and now James McCarthy – both still ruled out of Saturday’s Super-8s opener against Cork at Croke Park.
Dublin produced one of the best defensive displays in a while when keeping Meath to 0-4 in the Leinster final. “Starting every game, playing every minute, is great. Being injured last year, it really puts in perspective on how easily it can be taken away.”
From the Naomh Olaf club in south Dublin, Byrne may have thought his position was under some threat when near neighbour Rory O’Carroll, from Kilmacud Crokes, ended his three-year sojourn in New Zealand.
“It’s great to have him here. I didn’t actually really know until not long before the general public knew. Rory is a great lad, a great character. And to have him back is fantastic.
“I think Rory came back because of his own life decisions. I don’t think it had anything to do with football. And seeing as he was here, Jim asked him to come back on the panel and give it a go.”
Still, last year was “bitter-sweet”: Byrne came up with many of the current Dublin team, Paul Mannion, Jack McCaffrey, Ciarán Kilkenny of the 2011 minor team, and his 2012 minor team, and watching their glory from the sideline last year wasn’t easy.
“It’s great to see the lads win, no matter what. To see the team win is fantastic. It lifts you up. And then, I suppose, after the season when you’re looking back on it a bit, you think ‘it would have been nice to be out there.’ So a little bitter-sweet. But delighted to see the lads win.”
What is certain is that Byrne doesn’t have much time or thought for the argument that Dublin’s success is at least partly financial: Naomh Olaf didn’t even have a coaching officer when he started out in the club.
Like many of his team mates he is also busy developing a career outside of football, a management consultant with Deloitte.
“I know a lot of the club players who aren’t involved on the panel, I just try and keep my focus on training. You have to be on your toes all the time or your performances will slip. Then focus on the next game, when it comes.”
As every Dublin footballer will tell you.