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Dublin: 7 °C Sunday 23 February, 2020

'I had three operations in five seasons at Rovers. I worked my bollocks off to give myself a chance of coming back'

Shelbourne’s Luke Byrne talks about his return from a cruciate ligament injury, his side’s title-chasing season and working under Ian Morris.

Shelbourne defender, Luke Byrne.
Shelbourne defender, Luke Byrne.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

AFTER JUST 10 minutes at Turner’s Cross in April 2016, Luke Byrne’s season was over.

The then-Shamrock Rovers defender found himself on the wrong end of a Steven Beattie challenge and news after the game wasn’t good.

Cruciate ligament damage.

It would be a almost a year before he was back in the green and white.

“When you get the injury initially there is a bit of doubt in your mind [that you’ll get back to that level],” he tells The42.

“The cruciate ligament in particular is quite serious. I was told very clearly how bad it was, but I had a good medical team up at Rovers that helped me every step of the way.

“I had three operations in five seasons at Rovers. I ended up missing a lot of football.

Basically I worked my bollocks off when I got the bad news. That was all it really came down to. I knew once I did my work properly and dedicated myself to the rehab that I’d give myself a chance of coming back.

“Returning from an injury, your body does feel kind of different. You have to get your sharpness back. Stuff like landing and turning, you have to get that trust back in your body.

“Personally coming back from any injuries that I’ve had, I haven’t gone into a game until I’ve been 100% ready. Once I’ve gone back into my first game, there was never any thoughts about pulling out of tackles or anything like that.

That’s just in my nature. I wouldn’t play if I couldn’t give 100% in situations like that. Once you’re over that initial hump, whether it’s a couple of weeks or months of getting sharp again, all that doubt disappears.

“This season I’ve been totally injury-free. I feel like I’ve had a good season playing in a new position. Long may it last really.”

In October 2018, the 26-year-old found himself on the lookout for a new club. After half a decade with the Hoops, Byrne departed the club in search of more game time.

On his returning season in 2017 he made 26 starts for the club in all competitions, but that number more than halved (12) the following year.

His quest for first-team football brought him to Tolka Park.

Title Chasing

Ian Morris’ debut season in League of Ireland management looks set to end in success. Shelbourne sit top of the First Division, five points clear of Longford Town and Drogheda United with four games to play.

Having lost just five of their 23 league games this term – three of which came in their opening six games of the year – the Dublin side have put together a stellar run of form which saw them climb to the summit of the table.

Clever recruitment from the former Bohs defender saw Shels bring in Premier Division-standard players like Ciaran Kilduff, Conan Byrne, Oscar Brennan and Dan Byrne.

“Our form at the start of the season was up and down. I think now we can look back and say it was just everyone getting used to each other.

We always knew we had good players and good enough players to go on a run and compete at the top of the table. Just at that moment in time we weren’t really clicking.

“You see it in football all the time. When a lot of new players come in it can be difficult to gel straightaway. We’ve found our rhythm since then and we’ve gone on a good run.”

He continues: “A lot of the lads that have come in, the likes of Kilduff and Conan, have been around and played with hundreds of different players, as well as dozens of managers. At this stage of their career, they’ve obviously played a big part in helping us all gel together.

The manager was obviously new as well. He had his ideas on styles of play and ways of playing that we had to get used to and the lads that were there last year had to get used to as well.

“We all started from scratch together – it wasn’t a case of new lads coming in trying to figure out the style of play over the last few years. We were all kind of starting together. Luckily from those six or seven games, it’s all clicked into place.”

Ciaran Kilduff celebrates scoring Ciaran Kilduff celebrates giving Shels the lead at Dalymount Park. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Perhaps their biggest test of the season came last week at Dalymount Park. Morris – and Byrne for that matter – returned to their old stomping ground to take on Keith Long’s Bohemians in the opening round of the FAI Cup.

Three late goals at the death saw Bohs snatch an unlikely 3-2 victory, but Byrne insists there were more positives than negatives to take from the display.

It’s tough to take. We went there to win the game and I felt we played well. The position we put ourselves in, we really should have finished the job. But the circumstances in which we lost, they are hard to take.

“There were a lot of positives for us, we said that after the game, that if we take from last Friday into this Saturday that we give ourselves a chance. It’s not all doom and gloom.

“I mean, did I expect to be 2-0 up with five minutes to go? No. But how the game was going and how the gameplan was working, I didn’t really feel like they had much of a threat. They weren’t really creating anything.

“We definitely deserved to be ahead. I didn’t feel we were really in too much danger. Obviously going down a man, it gives the other side an advantage but we should still have seen the game out.

“2-0 up plus six or seven minutes to go, we should still win the game even with 10 men.”

A despondent Ian Morris echoed these sentiments after the game, but never publicly criticised his players. Both he and the team know there are loftier targets to reach between now and the end of the year.

Of course everyone is disappointed immediately after the game but we were able to reinforce to each other that there were positives to take into next week. We can let that game define our season.

“We’ve looked back at the game since and we all know we should have seen the game out. We didn’t need to be told that.”

A win this Saturday night against promotion rivals Longford Town would be the perfect elixir for their poor August form.

A late 1-0 defeat to Cobh Ramblers at St Colman’s Park two weeks ago halted their 11-game unbeaten run in the First Division, stretching back as far as 3 May when Cabinteely turned them over at Stradbrook.

To take three points in front of their fans this weekend would leave them eight clear of Longford in third and conceivably the same margin from Drogheda United should they slip to defeat at home to Wexford.

“Saturday is obviously a massive step toward what we all want to achieve but win, lose or draw the league can’t be decided this weekend.

“We just have to take it as a game in isolation. It’s just another game. We can’t think about who can pick up point or drop points. If you get drawn into that type of mindset you take your eye of the next game which is always the most important.

“We won’t pretend it’s not a big game, but it’s a big game for them as well. It we were to win, they’re not going to win the league being eight points behind us with three games to go. That brings pressure on them that they have to deal with as well.”

Ian Morris Not There Yet: Ian Morris has Shelbourne on the brink of a return to the Premier Division for the first time since 2013. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Second-Tier Challenge

Despite the aim of this year’s campaign being to get out of the First Division, Byrne admits he’s been impressed by the standard of the league this year.

In his first season in Ireland’s second-tier, the former Bohs man would rate winning the division as one of his highest honours.

“You speak to players and they talk about the difference in standards. You can never be sure until you’re in it yourself.

It is a drop in standard obviously, but there are still some good players and some good teams. You don’t get an easy game, you really do not get an easy game. Every week is tough. But I’ve really enjoyed it. Being part of a winning team and the pressure that comes with trying to win the league.

“Just because we have players who’ve played in the Premier Division, I don’t think we have the right to call ourselves a Premier Division team. Only the next four games will decide that.”

A return to the top flight would not only see Shels go back where most supporters of Irish football feel they belong, but would add an extra spark to the league as well as the return of another set of Dublin Derbies.

“The main ambition is to win the league and get promoted. You always look forward to playing any of those top teams. 

Better stadiums, bigger crowds, more attention on the game. Those are all the things that come with getting promoted. I’ve got fond memories of being with Rovers and I was hoping to draw them in the up this year. 

“I still watch out for their results. Fingers crossed now we do the business and give the fans those games to look forward to next year.”

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