crash and byrne Ireland ace Jack Byrne reveals his terrifying experience with Covid and warns young people that the virus is not just targeting vulnerable victims
First there was inexplicable fatigue, then the fever and the cough hit, before an overdose of fear rushed through Jack Byrne like a tsunami from hell.
Covid-19 had targeted its latest victim and this one didn't fit the stereotypical profile.
At the age of 24 and in the best physical shape of his life, Republic of Ireland midfielder Byrne was struck down by the killer virus that has been portrayed as a missile targeting the vulnerable and elderly.
Yet this story should change that perception in an instant.
As the Shamrock Rovers star spoke to the Sunday World he had a powerful message for the youth of Ireland who may dare to believe they are bulletproof to the virus that has rocked the world.
Jack's eagerness to get the message out that Covid-19 needs to be respected by all comes from the heart and when you hear his story, it's easy to understand why he is so keen to shift the mindset of those who refuse to believe they can be affected.
This tale starts at the Aviva Stadium on October 11, an hour or so after Ireland played out a 0-0 draw with Wales and Stephen Kenny's players boarded the bus to return to their hotel.
Jack Byrne was among their number and while he didn't know it at the time, Covid-19 had already found a way into his system.
"I was sitting on the bus and felt like falling asleep, which never happens to me after a game," he begins.
"Normally you are chatting to the lads and the adrenaline is flowing, but I just wanted to sleep. I didn't have any energy. That's when I got a test and it came back as positive.
"By the Tuesday and Wednesday, I started to get the cough and the fever. It just gets worse and worse and you start to panic.
Speaking as he promoted the Coca-Cola HBC Youth Empowered programme, he added: "It's scary. You are thinking where is this going?
"We all see the reports of people dying from Covid and while there is a perception it is more dangerous for the elderly, I can promise you that you don't want to get this.
"I'm young, I'm feeling great, I'm away with the Republic of Ireland national team and everything seems to be going great. Then, I get Covid and I was hit for six."
Jack's period of self-isolation saw him live through long days of lonely torture, gasping to get air into his lungs and fearful that he may infect family members.
His mam was leaving dinner outside the room he was holed up in, with the ordeal made all the more terrifying as he was cut off from the world.
"You are on your own, you don't know whether you should be going to hospital and it can go one way or the other," he continues.
"I was on the phone to the doctor for three straight days trying to work out what I should do next.
"This virus is killing so many people and you wonder whether you will fight it off. The isolation is one of the toughest parts. You might be asleep all day and then you are waking up at four in the morning and you are on your own, struggling to catch a breath.
"Then you are making your own decisions about your health and you are probably not in the right head space to make those decisions.
"From a mental health perspective, this thing really did take its toll on me.
"At my age, if you believe what you read in the papers or see on social media, Covid is not a virus that is anything to worry about, but I can tell you now that isn't the case."
Byrne's recovery has accelerated to a point where he has been able to link up with the Ireland squad ahead of their game against Wales today, yet his first attempt to get back on his feet just three weeks ago highlighted the toll Covid had taken on him.
"I started to feel better going into the second week after my positive test and I tried to go for a walk to get my legs moving and after about 15 minutes, I had to stop. I was exhausted, I had to lie down," he recalls.
"Then we found out that the blood vessels around my heart were bigger than what they should have been and that was stopping me from going back to training and that was all down to Covid.
"I was lucky to be in a position to have these scans and we could see the problem, but some people might still have heart issues and they will go back running and training when they think they have recovered from Covid.
"That's another issue to think about because it can take a long time to get over this and it might be dangerous to go running before you are ready for it, but hopefully people reading this who might be my age realise this is serious.
"It frustrates me when I still hear people say this is just a normal cold or flu. This is something very different and you don't want to get it.
"I hear people saying I'm not wearing a mask, I'm not taking the vaccine... but if you had been through what I've been through, you wouldn't be saying that.
"Thankfully, I'm out the other side of it, but I know so many people are not as lucky.
"One of the reasons I wanted to do this interview is I'm keen to let people know that whatever your age, this virus can get you."
Ironically, Jack had signed up to promote the Coca-Cola HBC #YouthEmpowered programme prior to his Covid scare, as he was keen to help 18-30 year-olds tap into resources that will help build their confidence and resilience amid the Covid-19 crisis.
Little did he know that a few days after he helped to launch the programme last month, Jack would himself become one of those fighting the virus and fearing what might happen next.
Complacency is a crime too many have embraced amid the ongoing crisis that offers a menace to each and every one of us.
This story should remind us all that no-one is immune to Covid-19.
Those impacted by changing work situations are invited to visit ie.Coca-ColaHellenic.com for free life and business skills training.