'A year of no crowds better than no GAA'

Byrne willing to risk playing on even if Covid forces Dubs' defence of Sam behind closed doors

Dublin footballer David Byrne at the launch of this year’s AIG Cups and Shields at the GUI National Golf Academy at Carton House in Maynooth

Frank Roche

Stage fright is not a phenomenon usually associated with a Dublin footballer.

Then again, it surely helps your inner zen when playing in front of 82,300 on All-Ireland day is like second nature.

This winter, there remains the forbidding possibility that Dessie Farrell's team will defend Sam Maguire in front of a half-empty, socially-distanced Croke Park or, worse still, no fans at all.

Clearly, the idea doesn't appeal to David Byrne. But, he quickly qualifies, it's better than no GAA at all.

"It's been great to be back playing club games and getting back out there. It feels like a bit of normality setting in," the Dublin full-back surmises.

"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."

So, a behind-closed-doors championship is better than none at all?

"Definitely, yeah. I think every player would surely say they'd rather play than not play at all," he answers. "But, I suppose, health and safety has to be the most important thing here. There's no place for taking unnecessary risks."


The sterile prospect of empty stadia flies in the face of what the community-based GAA stands for.

However, the worrying trajectory of Covid-19 positives in the past week, coupled with the Government's decision to leave outdoor gatherings capped at 200, has renewed fears about the feasibility of running senior inter-county championships from late October until six days before Christmas.

Former GAA president Liam O'Neill broached the subject this week when calling for "open discussions and really honest decisions. It appears now we're not going to have crowds at inter-county games. So let's examine the implications of that and say do we want that?"

Asked if he was worried about Covid trends and what this might mean, Byrne admits: "Yeah, I suppose there's always a bit of uncertainty there whether it's the GAA or, more importantly, jobs.

"But there's not much we can do about it. You just need to, as a player, just get on with what's in front of you. The HSE will issue any guidance they can and we just have to follow that."

What about personal safety fears, especially presuming dressing rooms need to be used as winter descends?

"You have to respect everyone's individual decision," says Byrne, who would have no issue with any player who decides not to come back.

"From my own perspective, that's a risk I'd be willing to take. But I suppose you do put yourself a little bit at 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."

His enthusiasm for the fray is no surprise given the injury travails that struck in 2018, when a broken foot scuppered any championship involvement.

"A frustrating one," he admits. "I'd seen a good bit of game time in the National League and was looking forward to championship and just innocuously enough picked up that foot injury.

"It seemed at the time that I would have been able to recover from it and get back in time for the All-Ireland series, but it ended up not properly healing ... but injuries are part and parcel of sport for most athletes so it was just something you need to take. And it makes it all the sweeter when you finally get back on the pitch."

Byrne firmly re-established himself in Jim Gavin's swansong campaign, starting eight out of nine SFC fixtures (he featured off the bench in the odd game out against Roscommon).

Then he started all five league games under Farrell - his new boss, but also a familiar one from his minor and U-21 days - before lockdown brought the GAA and life itself to a halt.

Since then, he has lost Jack McCaffrey as a teammate. "I suppose everyone was a little bit surprised, but it's his decision and he made the best decision for himself and I think we as a group all respect that," he says.

As for the furore over Dean Rock's free-taking project, he demurs: "I didn't really see all of it, to be honest. I try to stay away from it. From a player's perspective, we would all back Dean."

Clearly, Byrne is far more consumed by what happens on the pitch - even if Wednesday wasn't one of those happier nights. St Olaf's now need a result against St Mary's after suffering a 2-24 to 1-6 round-robin defeat to Cuala in the Dublin SFC2.

Byrne spent most of the game tracking fellow Dub Con O'Callaghan. "A top forward, the type of player you want to be marking," he says.

"It's always a bit of fun when you're playing against your teammates that you know well ... but not so enjoyable when you're losing."