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Louise and Emma take twin track approach

Monaghan sisters preach GAA gospel in Dublin and double up with Cody's Cats

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ADOPTED DUBS: Louise Byrne (left) and twin sister Emma are GPOs with
Skerries Harps and St Vincent’s

ADOPTED DUBS: Louise Byrne (left) and twin sister Emma are GPOs with Skerries Harps and St Vincent’s

ADOPTED DUBS: Louise Byrne (left) and twin sister Emma are GPOs with Skerries Harps and St Vincent’s

Louise Byrne has a message of encouragement for GAA diehards left frustrated by this interminable lockdown and wondering when the gates of their local clubhouse will open again.

She quotes Muhammad Ali: "Don't count the days, make the days count."

That's what Louise and her twin sister Emma have been doing, day after day, week after week, since Covid-19 brought football, hurling, camogie and indeed 'normal' life to a shuddering halt.

Even in these surreal times of stillness, the Byrne siblings are an impressively active duo.

They are the Monaghan twins who preach the GAA gospel in Dublin as their day job, then double up as performance analysts for Brian Cody's Kilkenny hurlers.

Emma is the games promotion officer attached to St Vincent's and Louise is the GPO with Skerries Harps.

Even in a world where all collective GAA activity has ceased, the sisters have never relented in their quest to keep the next Diarmuid Connolly or the next Bryan Cullen fully engaged.

The dynamic duo hail from Corduff, home club of Monaghan manager Séamus McEnaney. They still live at home and it's from their garden that they've continued to coach, cajole and inspire the youth of Skerries and Marino, some 50 or 60 miles away.

All remotely, of course. In the era of Covid, Microsoft Teams is the only gig in town.

"We'd be so used to being busy, busy, busy the whole time," says Louise. "Then to be stopped, all of a sudden … we couldn't cope with not doing something.

"The first day we were tidying out the cars and equipment, and we saw the cameras there. And I said to Emma, 'We can't coach physically, but let's try and do up a resource.' So we did … with 100 activities that parents and children could do in their back gardens."

And so, on the weekend of March 13-14, a variety of videos showcasing athletic development and skills drills were shot at their local primary school, Scoil Phádraig, Corduff.

These YouTube tutorials have been one online resource to retain player interest. Another has been the virtual training sessions that GPOs around the capital continue to run.

"In the current climate I'm running virtual sessions," Emma explains. "I can't coach them physically, I can't go up to Vincent's, but I'm actually coaching them here from Monaghan.

"I have nine or ten teams a week. I've four or five teams most evenings and then I run my academy, my mini-leagues, which is the four to seven-year-olds, so I have 80 to 100 families logging in every Saturday morning."

Louise agrees that remote sessions can be tough at times; but having two coaches under the one roof has been mutually beneficial.

For example, last Wednesday evening, the twins ran four sessions - two for Skerries, two for St Vincent's. Their joint involvement then encourages parents to get involved, and they are "getting a lot of fun out of it too."

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You could glibly describe their career journeys as a twin-track approach, except that Emma and Louise Byrne are very much driven by the same singular goal.

They played together with Corduff - and still do, when their hectic schedules allow.

They went to college together, spending seven years in IT Carlow where they studied the same degree course in sports management and coaching; did the same one-year internship in the sports department there; and then completed the same masters in strength and conditioning.

While in college they embarked on the same 'Orient' adventure, helping to develop GAA clubs in China during a four-month work placement linked in with Leinster GAA.

And in third year, a module in sports performance analysis ultimately led to the creation of their own company - Byrne Performance - and into the rarefied world of Kilkenny hurling.

Performance analysis was something they "dived into straight away," Louise recounts. Even growing up, their father used to video lots of their matches which they would then watch back, always searching for areas to improve on. Fast-forward to college, where they were tasked with analysing Carlow's Sigerson Cup football team.

At the time Mick Dempsey, such a pivotal figure in the Carlow IT sporting world, also happened to be an integral part of the Kilkenny senior management team - in essence, Brian Cody's right-hand man.

One day he asked the sisters would they be interested in doing analysis for Kilkenny; and they're still there. The first two seasons couldn't have gone better, the Cats winning Liam MacCarthy back-to-back in 2014 and '15.

Ask them about the buzz of being part of an All-Ireland triumph and they wax lyrical, instead, about the commitment of the players and management, how humble they all are, and how Cody is "central" to it all.

Today, Byrne Performance carries out a range of services beyond video analysis, including fitness testing, S&C, GPS analysis and sports performance consultancy.

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The Byrne sisters, now 27, have been involved in coaching for almost half their lives already.

"We started football quite late - we were probably 11," Louise relates. "But we had real positive experiences with our local club, one coach in particular. I had a bad shoulder injury when I was younger and went from playing sport every day of the week to not playing it … she (the coach) understood that I got frustrated.

"Emma would go out the door to play sport, and I couldn't play for a while, so she took me to my first ever foundation course and then I got involved in the local club, coaching, and got Emma roped in that way, when we were 14 or 15."

For all their Farney roots, they have embraced Dublin GAA since taking up their respective appointments in 2016.

Notwithstanding the absence of a parish rule in the capital, Emma reckons St Vincent's is "definitely like a parish." You are immersed in their culture, mingling with club icons such as Brian Mullins, Mickey Whelan, Ger Brennan and Tomás Quinn, as well as so many others "doing so much unseen work behind the scenes."

But how difficult was it, as a young woman from Monaghan, to convince them?

"I don't think they had a female GPO so maybe that was a difference at the start," says Emma.

"But once you can do your job, you're giving it your all and driving it forward, I didn't think it made much of a difference. And my energy and enthusiasm for it, and then maybe my skillset."

Up in north county Dublin, the new clubhouse in Skerries had opened the year before Louise's arrival.

"It's just amazing the facilities they have now. Probably a little bit smaller than Emma's club," she surmises, "but the numbers have grown and grown in all aspects, from academy right up to camps. We'd have two Cúl Camps every year with about 300 at each of them."

The lockdown has been a challenge for all GAA units, but also an opportunity for reflection.

"Maybe it's a time for coaches and clubs to put procedures in place, thinking of the future," Emma ventures.

"Even in terms of coach education, Dublin GAA are running webinars, they're running Foundation and Award 1 (programmes) online so, when coaches hit the ground running, they're already upskilled. So again, it's using the time wisely."

The sisters admit a tendency to finish each other's sentences ... now they conclude, almost word for word, with the same message: "There's no point in being all negative, so let's hope."