Conan happy to take flak for wearing Rovers jersey for marathon challenge for Irish Cancer Charity

by Dave Donnelly
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Former St Patrick’s Athletic, Shelbourne and UCD footballer Conan Byrne admits it will be a tough donning a Shamrock Rovers jersey as he undertakes a marathon walk for charity on Wednesday.

Byrne, who now plies his trade in the north with Glenavon, will undertake the 42kn marathon walk in honour of the Irish Cancer Society following the cancellation of Daffodil Day this year.

Daffodil Day is the biggest fundraising in the charity’s calendar but the society took the difficult decision to cancel the event due to the threat of coronavirus transmission.

While the general public are sure to dip into their pockets nonetheless for one of Ireland’s most respected frontline charities, Byrne had a brainwave about how he could help out on his own.

The solo walk will take in all six League of Ireland stadiums in Dublin – from Tolka Park to the UCD Bowl – and finish with a short trek from the Aviva Stadium to the Irish Cancer Society HQ on Northumberland Row.

“I was sitting on the couch last Friday night with Amanda [my wife],” Byrne told the Dublin Gazette.

“I can’t go to work, can’t go to football and just wanted to do something to help. Daffodil Day, in honour of the Irish Cancer Society, is close to everyone’s heart, really.

“I think everybody knows someone who’s been affected by it. So with them missing out on this huge fundraiser of theirs, I thought I’d do something very, very small.

“[It’s] not anywhere near what they’d usually get for Daffodil Day, but I’d try contribute a small amount to it and it’s taken off a bit.

“Family members over the year have contracted the illness and have survived it, are cancer survivors and are really advocated for the Irish Cancer Society.

“It happened close to home and you just do your bit and help out. You can see all the work that’s done, be it hospitals and oncology nurses to the charity themselves trying to raise money for care.

“My main motivation behind it was Daffodil Day being taken away from them and how are they going to make that up?

“I know they will have the general public donating on the day to their website, but I just wanted to add something extra to it.”

In order to ensure Byrne and others can safely keep their social distance, Byrne has turned down hundreds of offers from people willing to join him on his trip and instead opted to go solo.

While life as a footballer will prepare him for the physical side of the undertaking, 42km is far beyond what any player will run during the course of a game or training session.

It will be mentally gruelling for the Swords native, which is why he has resolved to keep in touch with fans and well-wishers on Twitter throughout the estimated 12-hour walk.

The kits Conan will wear

Glenavon have graciously allowed him to do the walk while under contract in Lurgan, and he intends to take it slowly in order to honour their commitment by avoiding injury.

“It’s going to be a slog, it’s going to be tough. I drove it and it took me three hours to drive it. It’s going to be tough, no doubt about it.

“That’s why I’m asking for people to join me along the way on Twitter and make a bit of light about it. I’ll post regular updates. It’s going to take around 12 hours, I’m guessing.

“I’m not going to put a time on it but I’ll take my time. I’m under contract at Glenavon, and I don’t want to mess with them.

“They’ve given me the opportunity to do this, thankfully, and that’s the reason I didn’t run it, [in case] I picked up any niggly injuries.

“It’s not going to be easy, though – it’s a tough walk. But it is a good cause and people are realising that and donating to the cause.”

It’s far from the first charity initiative Byrne, a primary school teacher by trade at Rush National School, has engaged in over the years.

He has his own charity, the Conan Byrne Zambia Initiative, which has raised more than €100,000 for Cheshire House, which looks after children with special needs.

“I did talk to the Presentation Sisters up there, but with the way things are going at home I thought it was important to do that, to look after the Irish Cancer Society.

“I also did a headshave last year when a child in my class was diagnosed with cancer. This isn’t the last. I regularly fundraise and I’ve plenty of ideas up my sleeve, but I’ll keep them there for now.”

Last year, after a child in his class was diagnosed with cancer, raised more than €5,000 with a sponsored headshave and he’s well on target to break that number this time around.

He’ll don a shirt of each League of Ireland club in Dublin after visiting their stadium – meaning the largest portion of his trip, 18km, will allow him to get acquainted with the green and white hoops.

Byrne is perhaps best known in Tallaght as a thorn in Shamrock Rovers’ side – he famously set a record by scoring all four goals in a 4-0 win for the Saints in 2013.

“It’s all for a bit of craic. The distance between Tallaght and Stradbrook is 18 kilometres so I’ll have it on my back for that length of time.

“The longest length of the journey, I’ll have a Shamrock Rovers jersey pm. But it’s all for a good cause, it’s all a bit of craic.

“I’ll make a few jokes about it and I’m sure I’ll get a bit of slagging about it and, hopefully, Pats fans won’t be too annoyed that I’ve donned the green and white hoops.”

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