IT seems like an entirety ago that a delighted Alec Byrne faced reporters at Turner’s Cross and took part in the post-match press conference.
The then 20-year-old had just scored his first league goal for Cork City and it proved to be the winner as the club earned their first win of the 2020 Premier Division season.
“Hopefully this is the start of something,” he enthused after his side’s vital 1-0 win against relegation rivals Finn Harps.
City would narrowly lose their next game away to St Pat’s but a spirited performance offered signs of encouragement ahead of another crucial home game against Bohemians. But then the Coronavirus pandemic struck.
“We felt after a few poor results that we were just after getting into it so it did come at a bad time,” Byrne told the Echo. “I was just after scoring my first league goal for the club and to score it in front of the shed was a special moment for me so I was buzzing with that.
“It was unlucky what happened next. Obviously, nobody expected the pandemic to happen but we are all in the same boat so we just have to take it with a pinch of salt.”
The Leesiders started the campaign slowly, losing their opening three games which included heavy defeats away to Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk. The Harps triumph eased the nerves of the young squad before football in Ireland was officially brought to a halt on the 13th of March, the morning they were set to host Bohs.
“There were a few games I thought I did alright in but there were other games then that were tough as a team,” admitted the midfielder.
“We are a young team and we are not very experienced yet but those away games to Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers, I think all the young lads learned fairly quickly just how ruthless this league can be if you are not completely at it.
“Hopefully that was just a little taster and we will learn from it going into the rest of the season.
“I thought the momentum was turning and our confidence was back up after Harps but look that’s football.
“We have been working hard now the last few months and hopefully in training over the next few weeks we can continue to turn things around when the season does restart.”
After three and a half months mostly stuck at home kicking a ball against the back wall and following coach Joe Gamble’s detailed programmes, City were finally allowed to return to training as a group, provided they followed new safety guidelines outlined by the FAI.
“It was good to get back,” said Byrne, who celebrated his 21st birthday during the break. “The last few months have been very boring and mentally tough so it was good to get back with the lads and train as a team instead of training at home by yourself. I’m enjoying it although the sessions are tough.
“During the lockdown, we were given a detailed plan to do stuff every day, it involved running or trying to do stuff in the gym at home.
“It was tough some days when you didn’t know what date the league was going to be back but we kept going.
“Joe Gamble seemed to be happy enough with all our fitness levels, when we came back he had us doing all these 1km time trials and a lot of running so he had a fair idea who did their bits during lockdown but we are all in good shape.
“It was just good to see all the lads again because we hadn’t seen each other in three months. You are so used to seeing each other every day so it was good to come back as a group.
“But it’s been weird as well though, it’s weird for everyone because we obviously weren’t used to this. When we come in we have to check our temperatures, we have to do it leaving as well. We have to stay two metres apart so the drills have been altered..
“It’s a new experience for everyone so we are all trying to do our bit and follow all the protocols.”
The youngster required surgery on his knee a couple of years ago that ruled him out of pre-season last year which meant fans didn’t see the best of him in 2019.
His goal against Harps showed the Carrigaline native was getting back to his best and he will be hoping to pick up where he left off when the season resumes at the end of this month.
“It was frustrating, I didn’t really need that break, to be honest,” he enthused.
“As a young team, we are getting written off really so our aim is to go out and win as many games as possible and do ourselves proud.
“You need that end goal so that you are training for something. We have that date now so that is what we are all gearing towards, to be ready for our first game back and getting off on the right foot.
“We will look to give it a good crack when we go back, there is no reason not to be confident. We are all looking forward to getting back and hopefully, we can take that last home game into the next one and get another three points.”