- Thursday February 16th, 2017 @ 10:08
INTERVIEW: 'My Pre-Season Buzz Is As Strong As Ever' - Conan Byrne
Conan Byrne made his League of Ireland debut in September 2005. He was playing for UCD, against Bray Wanderers.
Twelve years and over 300 appearances later, he's getting ready to face Bray again, on the opening night of the 2017 SSE Airtricity League season.
The game is in Richmond Park at 7.45pm on Friday February 24th. The night it all begins again.
But you knew that already and hopefully you'll be down in Inchicore cheering on Liam Buckley's Super Saints.
Conan netted on the double as Pat's beat Cabinteely in a friendly last Sunday. His first was a cracking free-kick, the second a tap-in at the back post.
He's been telling stpatsfc.com about those goals, pre-season and the aims for 2017.
"They are the goals you nearly most enjoy, the simple tap ins. You've made the effort to get in there and it's a simple finish. We've been talking about set pieces quite a bit in pre-season and I was happy to score the free kick, the keeper moved a little and I'm glad he did. It was a good fitness exercise too and we were all glad to get the work done, despite the awful conditions."
The Saints host Longford Town in the final friendly, this Friday (Feb 17th) in Richmond at 7.45.
Much of the focus in pre season has been on building the fitness of the team heading into the opening weekend, as Conan explains.
"Pre-season has been excellent. We've got a brilliant fitness coach in Mark Kenneally, he has us all very committed and determined and we're much fitter than we were.
Ger O'Brien has come in as coach with Darius and has been very good. We are all enjoying training, it's different every day which is important."
Conan told us a little more about the GPS tracking vests the players have been wearing in pre season, in both training and games.
"There's no hiding place. We all want to know our figures for the training session and the games and it encourages us maybe to make that extra run, or do that extra sprint etc. That type of work in the games then becomes expected of everyone, and if we all put in that level of commitment in terms of our work with and without the ball, we can then hopefully let our football do the talking. Hard work needs to be the minimum, we are going to be a very difficult team to play against this season."
The Saints squad for 2017 is mixed wirh youth and experience. Liam Buckley has added some seasons pros to the group, retained Conan, Captain Ian Bermingham, the Dennehy brothers, Graham Kelly and Christy Fagan. He's also kept younger players like Rory Feely, Sam Verdon, Lee Desmond, JJ Lunney and co.
Conan outlined what the new players will bring to the club.
"Liam has added some good experience to the squad with the likes of Barry Murphy, Gavin Peers, Padge Cregg, Kurtis Byrne etc, it's great to have that in the dressing room but also on the training pitch and in the games. Things have looked good in pre season so far but you can never really judge until the first few league games."
The gaffer spoke to 98FM on Sunday and was asked about being able to match the budgets of some of the other clubs.
His answer - "we can't match their budgets but we can match anyone in the league on the pitch, with a squad of good players, who are fit, committed and well organised."
His right winger agrees.
"It's not all about money. There's players in our team that were offered a lot more money to go elsewhere and they didn't go. The players that are in this league are good footballers who will work their socks off. If you do that and combine in with the talent we have, we'll go places. Dundalk have shown that over the last few years, they've been very fit, committed and have had a good team. That makes it sound quite simple, but it's true. We need to try to reach that."
So what are his thoughts on the opening game against Bray, having beaten them 4-0 in the Leinster Senior Cup last month.
"You always like to start the season with a home game no matter who it's against. We've already forgotten about the win over Bray in the LSC. It won't be the same type of game at all. Our plan is continue our positive pre season, pass the ball well, press as a team when we don't have it, keep more clean sheets, improve our set pieces and keep our attacking play at the level it's been at in recent years. If we do all that we'll have a great chance, and that's not just in the Bray game, that's in the whole season."
Having begun all the way back in 2005 as a UCD college student, the 31 year old says his pre season buzz is as strong as ever.
"If you weren't looking forward to the season then there would be something seriously wrong. We've been building up our fitness and training hard for the last two months and then it all boils down to the first game of the season. The week, the build up, the media exposure, the buzz around the dressing room and the fans. That buzz for me has got stronger as the seasons have rolled on and I know I won't be playing for too many more so I'll enjoy this one, I hope!"