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Former Dundalk fitness coach making his mark with promotion-chasing Louth

Wee County star Andy McDonnell has singled out the Dubliner for praise.

Former Dundalk FC fitness coach Graham Byrne (centre) is now working for Louth GAA.
Former Dundalk FC fitness coach Graham Byrne (centre) is now working for Louth GAA.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

LOUTH FORWARD ANDY McDonnell has singled out fitness coach Graham Byrne for praise ahead of the county’s promotion decider with Westmeath on Saturday.

Byrne is in his second year on the Wee County coaching team, but his role has been more hands-on since Wayne Kierans replaced Pete McGrath as manager last autumn.

The Dubliner previously worked for Dundalk FC and gained wide acclaim for the players’ conditioning during Stephen Kenny’s trophy-laden spell at the club – where they won seven major trophies in five seasons as well as competing strongly in Europe – before departing early last year.

Louth were impressive winners over Down last Sunday, a result which ensured this week’s back-fixture against Westmeath would decide who joins Laois in Division Two next year.

The Wee County enter the Drogheda clash as the National League’s joint-top goalscorers (10), while only Westmeath’s defence has been meaner in Division Three thus far, stats which point to the training ground impact of Byrne and co, the squad feel.

Andy McDonnell Andy McDonnell was Louth captain under Pete McGrath in 2018. Source: Lorraine OÕSullivan/INPHO

“Graham has us in prime condition and he’s a great lad to have around the team,” McDonnell told The42.

“He’s done a lot more of the training this year and you can see [his quality] from what he’s done with Dundalk previously.

“He’s like one of the lads but at the same time he takes his work seriously. The players are very eager listening to him and we really enjoy his training, along with Cathal Murray, who has been very good since he’s come in from the Down set-up.

“Graham is just a good guy to train with. He helps you on and off the field. He’s a man that I’d have a lot of time for and I know the other players do too.”

Victory tomorrow would seal McDonnell’s third career promotion from Division Three and ensure Louth’s topsy-turvy league record continues – the county having yo-yoed between the second, third and fourth tiers every season since 2013.

Kevin Maguire and Andy McDonnell Westmeath's Kevin Maguire and Andy McDonnell of Louth during the teams' Leinster Championship meeting in 2014. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Westmeath will be the fifth Leinster opponent of Louth’s in this league campaign alone, while four of their six matches have finished with just one score in the difference. This, McDonnell feels, points to where the real inter-county competition lies.

“You look at the leagues and they’re all fairly level and very exciting, maybe not so much like the championship these days where you have favourites like Dublin at the start,” the Newtown Blues clubman added.

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“The league, in my opinion, is a good way of seeing where you are, and for us, a number of ‘pundits’ thought we’d be favourites for relegation, and maybe rightly so after having a disastrous year last year, but you must remember the teams we played last year were quality opposition.

“We said we’d try and hold our own starting out and surprise a few people; we have done that and hopefully we can win on Saturday.

“But sometimes when people expect Louth to win, we don’t, and when no-one thinks we’ve a chance in hell, we go out and give a performance.

“I wouldn’t say we expect to win, Westmeath are one of the top sides in the division and they’ve got some quality players, so we’ll have to be on our toes, but if we are we’ve a good chance.”

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