Interview by Andrew Dempsey
2018 heralded a new dawn for many Longford Town players. While some have gone on to pastures new, most have stayed on for one more year at the City Calling Stadium. One man who has decided to stay on is lethal finisher Dean Byrne who lit up the City Calling Stadium on many occasions last term. While injury ultimately cut the Dubliner’s fine debut season short, it was a year that ‘Deano’ stole the hearts of a fiercely passionate and loyal fanbase on the Strokestown Road. After battling through a long-term injury, Byrne caught up with LTFC.ie reporter Andrew Dempsey with a view in mind to next season’s First Division which looks set to excite once more.
With a devastating injury cutting Byrne’s season so cruelly short in June 2018, the road to recovery was difficult for the former AUL star especially in a brutally long off-season as said by Neale Fenn’s dangerous attacking talent.
“It was long. I lost my way a little bit with the injury, but I worked hard and got back on the pitch with Hardwicke in the AUL, so I got going there during the off-season and got myself a head-start in regard to getting back out on the pitch. In September I got back in the gym and started training a little bit on the leg. I was working hard and but before I started back, I had a lot to do. I started doing sessions on my own with Hardwicke, doing sprints and running. Football work came in at the end of September. From then on I started building my leg back up and from there on in I got back with Hardwicke and it worked out well with me.”
While Dean was recovering from his season-ending blow against Cabinteely, the rest of the first-team had no time to feel sorry for themselves. An intense Playoff push was eventually stopped in its tracks by Drogheda with an injury-ravaged Town battling gamely right to the final whistle of the season.
“I couldn’t believe how well the lads got on with all the injuries we had. The team spirit was brilliant and the lads that were there stuck with each other and stuck around to keep a close bond together. It was like a team of best friends and they just kept going. We were obviously really unlucky with how things went in the end but hopefully we can continue the good form from last year and we can hopefully start like a house on fire!”
With the likes of Anto Breslin and Lee Steacey coming in through the doors of the City Calling Stadium, there have been many notable departures from Neale Fenn’s ranks. While the loss of key men such as Daniel O’Reilly and Dylan McGlade will be difficult to initially deal with, Byrne revealed that there is a belief in the squad to stand up and be counted following the departures of such key personnel during the transfer window.
“No matter what or who you bring in, Daniel O’Reilly is going to be a massive loss for us. He’d be a massive loss for any side in the Premier and First Division, and obviously you add in Sam Verdon and Dylan McGlade. I don’t know what you can say about Dylan, his goals were monumental for us last year and they kept us going. Obviously, there’s a large amount of us who are willing to work just as hard and are just as talented as Dylan is so there’s always somebody ready to step in and lead by example. I think we can fill the void quickly and hopefully they can have the same impact as what Sam, Dylan and Sam had for us!”
With the days counting down to the big kick-off away to Limerick FC, Byrne is certainly not one lacking ambition as he is targeting at least a Playoff spot for a young and hungry Red and Black Army in 2019.
“The very least we’re looking for is the playoffs but we’re obviously looking for more than that. We’re all confident in our own ability but as a team we’re all getting on really well in pre-season. there’s some really good talent after coming in to the side and they’ve just gelled in like they’ve been there for years. I think we should be definitely aiming for the playoffs this year and we will cause upsets, big time!”
With the game against Limerick on the opening night pitting Dean against two of his former teammates from last season in Jack Brady and Chris Mulhall, Dean has said, while he is looking forward to the game and meeting up with two of his ex-teammates, all the focus is on beating the Blues come February 22nd at the Markets Field.
“For me personally that’s exactly what I’m looking forward to, getting back in the swing of things and playing for Longford again. I’ve never looked forward to something so much in my life. Obviously playing against Jack (Brady) and Chris (Mulhall) will be different but they were great for me last year. Jack was one of the first who came up to me and I became close with him right from the off last season. He took me under his wings last year and it will be nice to see Jack again and obviously Chris then. I learnt a lot from him last year being a striker and all but hopefully we’ll do them, no disrespect!”
And finally, Byrne called on the supporters to replicate their passion and commitment of last season in 2019 as De Town look to go one further than last season at the City Calling Stadium.
“The fans. I can’t even explain how good they were last season. It was unbelievable to walk out every single week and see them singing away, going at the drums for the whole ninety minutes, win, lose or draw. It was unbelievable. As I’ve said before, I’ve never experienced that kind of support in my life from the amateur ranks so to feel the passion, it really does feed into the players minds and give us that little extra fire in our belly!”