BETTER, FASTER, STRONGER

Graham Byrne, Dundalk FC fitness coach, in centre working with team members during a pre-match routine
One thing that has been commonly heard from Dundalk players during any post or pre-match interviews in the past couple of weeks is their belief that they are one of the fittest teams in the Airtricity League.

One thing that has been commonly heard from Dundalk players during any post or pre-match interviews in the past couple of weeks is their belief that they are one of the fittest teams in the Airtricity League.

John Dillon and Patrick Hoban stated it after the 3-1 win over Shamrock Rovers recently and Hoban again highlighted the point when he was picking up his SWAI Player of the Month award for July in Dublin last week.

Brian Gartland was the latest to mention it on Friday night, saying that Dundalk’s ability to see out the final 15 minutes against Shelboure at Tolka Park was down to the levels of fitness instilled in the players.

“The fitness and the character of the team shone through”, said Gartland. “Your concentration can go if the fitness is not there but we certainly have that.”

Statements like this much be music to the ears of Lilywhites Strength and Conditioning Coach Graham Byrne. With such praise coming his way, you could forgive Byrne if he was to sit back and soak up all the adulation.

However the Dubliner, who is also Fitness Manager at DCU, said it was the players who should be taking all the plaudits.

“It’s all about them”, said Byrne. “They are young, ambitious and they have really bought into what we are doing and you can see it on the pitch.

“There are sports scientists and strength and conditioning coaches all over the world”, he continued.

“Clubs spend millions on sports science every year but it’s about the players buying into it.

“I was at Bohemians for a couple of years before and it was a bit of a token gesture. It was almost as though they wanted a strength and conditioning coach because it looked good in the match programme.

“All the information is there for the players. What we are doing in training, why we are doing it, what is important for your recovery and what you need to do to prepare. It’s all there. And if the players are receptive then it makes my job a lot easier. If not it can make you look poor.”

Part of Byrne’s role is injury prevention and he has been happy with Dundalk’s injury record this season with nobody - except the unfortunate Keith Ward - missing large chunks of the campaign with muscular injuries.

“The horrible side of the game is prehab and injury prevention. No player likes doing it but it works. Prehab is all about flexibility and keeping players out of the physio room.

“If I’m doing my job right then there won’t be too many players in the physio room with hamstrings, groin strains and back injuries so you could say that my job is to put our physio Paul Cheshire out of a job”, he joked.

Mentions of hamstring and back injuries inevitably leads to questions about the pitch at Oriel Park as the synthetic surface has been long been cited as a key factor in causing muscular injuries to players.

“Everybody warned me at the start of the season that the pitch would give us loads of muscular injuries and accelerate hamstring and back injuries but I relish that challenge”, he said.

“I think people are naive and a bit ignorant across the country regarding strength and conditioning coaches. People think ‘ah Manchester United have one of those, what would I need one of those for?’ but if you have a really good strength and conditioning coach then your physio won’t be needed as much.”

There is a massive feel good factor attached to Dundalk this season and like everybody else associated with the club, Byrne said he was delighted to be involved.

“It’s an absolute pleasure”, he stated.

“I’m in DCU full-time and people say to me how can I go to Dundalk after a full days work and look forward to it but I love it. It’s such a tight knit group, the attitude is great and everybody looks forward to training.”