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Dublin: 5°C Monday 18 January 2021

'Everyone must help. If you don't take it seriously and catch the virus you'll pass it on and harm people'

Jack Byrne and Graham Burke explain the importance of isolating to fight Covid-19 after contributing to a €25,000 emergency fund for fellow League of Ireland players.

Graham Burke (left) and Jack Byrne (right).
Graham Burke (left) and Jack Byrne (right).
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

YOU CAN SEE Croke Park peering over you from Jack Byrne’s front garden.

Look out the window of the box room he calls home and even more of the GAA’s cathedral is visible.

The house, which he shares with older sister Jodie, her daughter Grace, and their mother Jackie, is just off Clonliffe Road.

They have a Dublin GAA flag planted in the front garden.

Byrne may be a Republic of Ireland international rediscovering his love of the game with Shamrock Rovers but this is a time of year when GAA begins to dominate around this corner of the capital.

Not now.

The people normally set to descend on Croker for the summer’s football and hurling championships will be staying away.

The sights, the sounds and the smells will all be different.

There will be no colour in the months ahead.

The black and white reality is that people will have to stay away in order to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic.

But Croke Park is still playing a role as one of the country’s drive-through testing centres for the virus – as well as Rovers’ Tallaght Stadium – and Byrne sees first-hand the numbers availing of the service.

At the moment I’m able to go for a run around the area just for the good of my own mental health and it’s sad, you see the cars driving up so people can be tested. It’s another reminder, it’s an eye opener, really,” Byrne tells The42.

“We are all in this together, everyone needs to play their part to help the country and the people in their community. There are elderly people, so getting them essentials that they need; medication, break, milk, that all helps.

“You have to do it safely but anyone who needs help should get it. I think we can carry on with that togetherness when we come out of all this. All communities need to be together and will be stronger for it; it’s a tough time but if people know there is help for them, as this passes it will make us stronger.”

Byrne has seen his mother lead from the front long before this outbreak by working to help feed and support homeless people in Dublin.

jack-byrne-celebrates Rovers midfielder Jack Byrne. Source: Ciaran Culligan/INPHO

“She can’t do as much now because of what’s going on,” he explains. “She has to stay away, like everyone has to, keep a safe distance so you don’t pass the virus on or don’t get it. She wants to help even more but for her own family’s sake she can’t.

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“It’s difficult to put into words how homeless people must be doing during this time. There are still people out there helping and doing what they can and what is safe.

“It’s not like anyone can say this day next week everything will be back to normal or that everything will be alright. Sitting in doors is tough from the mental health side of it, trying to keep positive and the mind active, but we have to do it for the good of everyone else.

Of course, there are loved ones that you want to see, it’s one of the things I love about being at home, being able to walk around the corner to see family and my friends. I can’t do it, but there is a really good reason for that and it’s to make sure the virus doesn’t spread.

“This is not something I thought I would ever live through,” Byrne continues. “And hopefully it will never happen again. We’ve got to deal with what is thrown at us. Every day above ground is a good day I always say.

“And I definitely think the severity of it all has opened people’s eyes to not just think of themselves but to think of others as well.”

His Rovers teammate Graham Burke agrees. Like all families throughout Ireland, his have had to halt physical contact. His grandmother, for example, has the lung condition emphysema, while his own three-month-old daughter is isolating at home with him and his partner.

liam-buckley Sligo Rovers manager Liam Buckley has been laid off, along with players and administration staff, while there are no games. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“We have to take everything into consideration here because if you catch it and pass it on you are going to harm people. Everyone has got to take all the precautions needed to stop it,” Burke insists.

“We love the game and wish we could play football but cases [of Covid-19] are going to go up and up. They say it hasn’t peak yet, so we have to think about people’s health.”

Mental health is another vitally important issue and it’s one of the reasons Byrne and Burke contributed towards a €25,000 emergency fund which has been established for fellow League of Ireland players.

The brainwave of former Rovers and Ireland player Graham Barrett, who now runs the agency Integrity Sports, clients such as James McClean, Enda Stevens, Kevin Long and Gavin Bazunu have also chipped in.

graham-burke-celebrates-scoring-his-fifth-goal-of-the-night Rovers forward Graham Burke. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“It’s important. Look, there are no millionaires in this league. Players rely on contracts to pay bills, just like most people in Ireland.

“People around the country are all in the same boat. We all have to pull in and help out in any way can because no one wants to see the league suffer,” Byrne explains, as Burke, on loan from Preston North End, continues his point.

“We all love the league, we all love to play the game and want to see boys playing again and people being able to come to the game. We have to be together with this.

“I don’t want to see anyone go without a wage or go through these hard times thinking no one was trying to help. It might not go far because we don’t know how bad things will get but it’s something to try and help.”

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