Wizardry and history: the eventful footballing life of Davy Byrne
Former Dublin minor captain staked his claim as a first-choice defender in 2019
Davy Byrne in action for Dublin in the All-Ireland final against Kerry. He played all but one of the county’s championship games this season. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe
Davy Byrne’s magical reminiscence isn’t primarily to do with his considerable role in helping Dublin to achieve history in September. It relates back to 2012 when he had just captained Dublin’s minors to a first All-Ireland in 28 years.
“Great story,” he enthuses at Thursday’s press call at the head office of county sponsors, AIG, “probably the best story I’m ever going to have in my life. Peaked at 18! It’s not getting better than that.”
“It was the Monday after we won the minor in 2012 and a few of the lads bumped into him on Grafton Street. I wasn’t there. But a few of the lads had already come back to my house.”
Did he want to join them?
“And he said ‘yeah, sure, go for it’. I got a phone call from Conor Mullally and he was saying ‘we’re with Harry Potter in a taxi and we’re coming back to your house.’
“I did not believe him in the slightest. So I said, ‘yeah, very good’ and hung up.
“Then the doorbell rings 15 minutes later and Mullally is looking at me, going ‘Harry Potter is right outside your house’.
“So I walked outside and he was standing in the front garden.”
Having invited his unexpected celebrity guest into the house, Byrne decided to tell his parents, by now in bed.
“You can imagine the look on my mother’s face when I was shaking her saying ‘Daniel Ratcliffe is downstairs’. I think she thought I had too many drinks! But she came downstairs and made him a cup of tea.”
Dublin GAA and not just random film stars have reason to be grateful to Mrs Byrne. Her son says that whereas his father was primarily a rugby man, he brought young Davy to St Olaf’s in Dundrum (the nearest club) with his wife forbidding any engagement with the oval ball as “too physical”.
He even sheepishly outs himself as “an absolute Harry Potter nerd” and discreetly called the actor into another room and got him to sign ‘The Deathly Hallows’ away from the team-mates, so as to avoid a world of sniggering.
Radcliffe, who had been wandering with no money at the time of the meeting, even sent back €50 to cover his taxi fares.
Top that. Well, a year later, Jim Gavin called him into the Dublin senior panel and even if injury and the demands of apprenticeship meant that it hasn’t been until this year that he became a fixture on the team – starting all but one of this summer’s championship matches – he has eventually become the latest footballer to vindicate the Dublin manager’s acumen for picking talent early.
Five All-Ireland medals later, he says that this year was especially gratifying, as he contributed so much to the record five-in-a-row.
“I think whenever you don’t play you’re obviously delighted for the team but there’s obviously a little bit of individual disappointment there and luckily for me this year that wasn’t the case. It’s always going to be a little bit more special when you’re out on the pitch.”
Byrne’s defensive work was outstanding this year and his burgeoning confidence reflected in a willingness to push forward, which included a point in the All-Ireland replay.
He says that he has learned from more experienced players around him and pays tribute to team captain Stephen Cluxton.
“We talk about what he’s looking for from us. Even as a young defender coming on to the squad, he’s great to have behind you. He’s really vocal, very supportive. I remember playing in O’Byrne Cup squads down in Carlow. It could have been my first game and Clucko was behind me, giving me loads of instruction and encouragement.”
So too, his fellow defenders: like Jonny Cooper. “A real master of detail; he pays a lot of attention to his craft. I learned a lot from him in terms of how he looks after himself as an athlete . . . probably doesn’t eat these sandwiches that I’ve been eating now.”
On the proposed rule changes at this weekend’s special congress, he supports the sin bin as punishment for black cards (“because if you get a black card your whole All-Ireland final could be over”) but sees issues for defenders in the other two, the 20-metre kick-out (“makes it harder to win a short kick-out”) and the attacking mark (confusion over whether the forward is running the mark or taking a kick).
Ultimately though, he’ll play it as he finds it.
“I’m sure we’ll get used to it if it comes in.”