As League of Ireland players wind down their pre-season efforts ahead of the big kick-off on Friday, Dundalk fitness coach Graham Byrne has pinpointed Daryl Horgan’s approach as an example to all players looking to reach their potential.
It was over a year ago that Horgan’s season began with Dundalk, and after just a short break following the conclusion of the Europa League group stage in December, his campaign is still going with new club Preston in the English Championship.
Rather than tiring, Horgan is going from strength-to-strength in the second tier in England.
It represents the progression for League of Ireland players in recent times in terms of conditioning.
Byrne, head of fitness at DCU, joined the Lilywhites when Stephen Kenny took over at the club ahead of the 2013 campaign and has been hailed as a key part of their success.
He said: “Our objective around four or five years ago when I started working with Dundalk was to get to a level where we could be as fit as any team.
“We had full-time players - we might not have the academies that other clubs across the water have – but why can we not get our players as fit as the teams across Europe? Why can’t we compete with them on that level at least?
"That has been our aim in the last couple of years in particular. As soon as we won the league and made it to Europe, it was our target.
“Europe is a massive step up. You’re going into seasoned professionals, full internationals, guys who more than likely have been in academies from very young ages. Our aim was to compete with them on a fitness basis anyway. Certainly I think we achieved that.
“With the crazy schedule we had last year, which everyone knows about, we got through that, and it was a credit to the lads for their hard work and professionalism to do that.”
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Byrne has questioned the theory that all players competing in England are at peak levels and uses Horgan as an example of what can be achieved in Ireland with the right approach.
The seamless transition Horgan has made when arriving at Preston illustrates what Byrne thinks can be done.
He concluded: “Sometimes in England we assume it’s the promised land, that everyone over there is super professional and players are in incredible condition. I don’t find that the case.
“To say that players come back from England, and we just assume that they are in great nick, would be false.
“Daryl has gone straight into the team with very little rest. We started training in January of last year, 13 months ago. He has not only trained all the way through, he has gone straight into the team. His talent has been able to shine.
“It’s all testament to his professionalism. All I’m trying to do is provide them with information on how to mind their body, what to eat and how to train. That’s all my job is really.
“His professionalism is incredible and his success is down to what he has done off-the-pitch to be honest. It’s down to how he looks after himself and his attitude.”
Dundalk fitness coach Graham Byrne was speaking to RTÉ Group Soccer Correspondent Tony O'Donoghue