Davy Byrne says that inter-county players’ decisions need to be respected if they opt-out of play in 2020.
Club football across Ireland resumed in late July with the inter-county game scheduled to begin on October, 17.
However with a scattering of GAA clubs across the country forced into lockdown following positive Covid-19 tests, the future of the games in 2020 lingers.
It raises questions around players’ willingness to commit to the county’s cause while still fighting the coronavirus. While social distancing measures have been implemented, these will become harder to enforce throughout the winter season.
The Dublin full-back believes players’ decisions need to be respected. The five-time All-Ireland winner feels that if an individual doesn’t want to return out of fear for their personal safety, then that is reasonable.
“Yeah, I suppose you have to respect everyone’s individual decision as a player,” Byrne said at the launch of this year’s AIG Cups & Shields and the AIG Irish Close Championship.
“If a player decides they don’t want to come back, then that’s reasonable. From my own perspective, that’s a risk I’d be willing to take. But I suppose you do put yourself at a little bit of a risk when playing these games.
“It’ll be taking the attitude of following whatever guidance is out there. If the GAA are saying it’s safe to come back and play, then we’ll play.”
Behind closed doors
The decision to keep crowds to a 200-person maximum at club games has been met with negative publicity. Meanwhile, the possibility of a behind closed doors championship is continually being discussed.
Davy Byrne has been happy to get back out on the pitch for his club Naomh Ólaf. However when it comes to later in the season, he feels every player would take an empty Croke Park over nothing.
“It’s been great to be back playing club games and getting back out there. It feels like a bit of normality settling in.
“Would you rather there were more crowds in Croke Park for an inter-county game? Of course. But I think something is better than nothing. I’m just happy to play a game at this stage, whatever the case may be.”
“I think every player would surely say they’d rather play than not play at all. But, I suppose, health and safety has to be the most important thing here. There’s no place for taking unnecessary risks.”
At this time of year, the football championship is normally beginning to heat up.
However the enforced break means players have had to take a step back. They’ve been forced to rethink their approach given the revised calendar.
“You can’t be staying fit for 12 months of the year and asking yourself when the off-season is going to be.
“There was a lot of uncertainty at the start, we didn’t know if we were going to be getting ready for a championship in the summer or if county was going to be first.
“Then we found out that county was kind of last, so I did take a little bit of time off to try and rest and recover.
“You are not going to be able to maintain it for 12 months of the year. You want to make sure you are peaking towards the end of the season. So I took a bit of time off to rest and recover and went back at it then with the club.”
Before the lockdown, the Dubs sat middle of the road in Division 1 of the Allianz Football League. Two wins, two draws and one defeat to Tyrone on a night where no football should have been played.
When inter-county action resumes, they will be aiming for a sixth straight All-Ireland title. Many have speculated that the break would have been welcomed by a fatigued Dublin outfit.
Six in a row
However Byrne doesn’t believe that to be the case citing Dublin’s strength in returning year on year with renewed motivation.
“I suppose at the start of the year, and it’s a bit of a cliche, but it is a new group every year. The core is there but there’s usually one or two guys who might retire at the end of the year and there’s always one or two younger lads or new guys coming into the panel who add that bit of energy.
“It was no different this year and it probably added to it the fact that there was new management bringing more new people to the group adding energy.
“It’s always our attitude that every year is different, so we were energised at the start of the year.”
Dublin’s new management team, led by Dessie Farrell, has been widely discussed.
The Na Fianna man has coached many of the current Dublin panel through underage level. Byrne stands out having captained a Dessie Farrell side to All-Ireland glory in the 2012 minor championship. The first of his managerial career.
Davy Byrne admits he’s lucky to have a good relationship with Farrell. One that he feels was an advantage with Farrell coming on board.
“I’ve been lucky to have a good relationship with Dessie and would know him well from minor and under-21 days.
“So yeah, something new this year with the new management but it was lucky for me because I had that familiarity with him and the backroom team as well, Mick Galvin and the other boys. It wasn’t too new for me.
“It was an advantage having a relationship already with the manager.”
As Dublin go in search of more silverware in 2020, teams will be looking to utilise the forward mark as a means of exploiting the champions.
The Dubs’ full-back line has often been cited as the team’s weak spot. Davy Byrne believes the rule adds another dynamic to the game. As a result, the Naomh Ólaf man thinks defenders will need to be more aggressive in contesting 50/50 balls.
“It’s another added dynamic to the game. From a full-back’s perspective, the advanced mark probably affects us a good bit.
“You probably need to be a bit more aggressive at times. You can’t let your man win an easy ball because he has a shot on goal straight away so you just need to contest a bit more in there, which is what we always tried to do.”