Here's to Conan

Thu, Feb 13 2020

Conan Byrne Credit: Darragh Connolly (ETPhotos)

Generally obituaries are written for people who are dead, so this is not an obituary. Tributes are generally reserved for those who have retired, so it’s not one of those either. Similarly, to commemorate someone tends to concern those who have departed this life- again not relevant.

This piece concerns someone, who for the first time in fifteen years is not preparing for the start of the League of Ireland season, an iconic figure in the league who has now turned to showcase his talents in the NIPL. So it’s not an obituary or tribute or commemoration, it’s just my views on Conan Byrne and the impact he’s had over the past decade and a half.

As a second year scholarship student, he was rewarded for Under 21 goalscoring exploits for UCD, Byrne debuted against Bray Wanderers in September 2005 and proceeded to score in 2005 League Cup Final against Derry City in Belfield later that month. (Incidentally, all three goalscorers on the night are now teachers- Alan Murphy and Pat McWalter (og) are both educating secondary school students while Byrne is a primary school educator).

2006 saw Byrne continue to appear sporadically for The Students while in 2007 he was converted to a right winger and ended up as the club’s Player of the Season as he finished his degree, but it was his transfer the following year to Sporting Fingal which saw silverware continue to come his way, as well as the beginning of a fruitful relationship with Liam Buckley.

Combining his on field role as a goalscoring wideman with an off field community position, Byrne was a crucial part of the Morton Stadium based side. Over three seasons the club won promotion to both the Premier Division and European competition as well as an FAI Cup success in 2009- a year in which Byrne also finished as the First Division top goalscorer.

Fingal's demise at the outset of the 2011 season saw the Swords native sign for Drumcondra based Shelbourne. With a goal record of almost one in three (15 goals in 51 games, 13 in 28 in 2011), and promotion to the Premier Division in 2011, St Patrick’s Athletic- under the stewardship of Buckley- came knocking and, following an impressive preseason, he scored 3 goals in April 2013, finishing up with nine goals in 33 goals in total as the Inchicore side won the Premier Division title- Byrne’s third league win.

A standout game from the season was Byrne netting all four goals for St Pat's in a 4-0 win over Shamrock Rovers in August.

2014 saw Byrne double his goslscoring output, posting 18 in 33 league appearances. On the silverware front he landed the second FAI Cup of his career following a win over Derry City- Pat’s first success in the tournament in over 50 years.

In 2015, he lifted the EA Sports Cup following a penalty shootout win over Galway Utd while Buckley’s troops retained their title the following season with a 4-1 win over Limerick, Byrne notching the second goal in the 84th minute. The year ended on a high as he graduated with a teaching degree.

The accolades continued in 2017 as he scored a goal of the season contender against Bohemians, his 100th goal for St Pat’s and won the Supporters Player of the Season. 2018 saw the end of the successful Byrne- Buckley axis as the manager departed before the end of the season, a campaign which saw Byrne play his final game for the Saints wearing the captain’s armband and recording two assists against Derry City in a 5-0 victory.

He returned to Shelbourne for the 2019 season, playing an experienced role amongst the playing staff as First Division title number two with the Tolka Park outfit was achieved. In a strange twist of fate, similar to 2016, Byrne scored the second goal against Limerick on the night he lifted a trophy.

Off the field, Byrne has set up a charity foundation to raise money for Zambian children as well as agreeing to shave his hair in a sponsored event for an ill pupil in his school. 2018 and 2019 also saw a new step into the media world. Having been an ambassador for Show Racism the Red Card for a number of seasons, Byrne further contributed to the league by co-presenting The Greatest League in the World podcast as well as some co-commentary work for extratime.ie.

He recently signed for Glenavon and has made a positive contribution already, helping turn around a deficit on his debut before scoring a free kick a few games later. While there are those in the league who may mourn his departure from the league after such an incredible journey, Mourneview Park is where to see him ply his trade now.

Not an obituary, tribute or commemoration, just a simple recognition of a career well played in the league.