herald

Saturday 25 March 2017

Jack's new challenge

Dub leaves Premier behind but ambition still burns very bright

Rep of Ireland U21 duo Courtney Duffus, right, and Jack Byrne celebrate a goal during the UEFA U21 Championship qualifier against Serbia at the RSC, Waterford last October
Rep of Ireland U21 duo Courtney Duffus, right, and Jack Byrne celebrate a goal during the UEFA U21 Championship qualifier against Serbia at the RSC, Waterford last October

As has happened to so many other young Irish hopefuls, there would no fairytale ending for Dubliner Jack Byrne in the Premier League.

His time at Pep Guardiola's club is up, the 20-year-old leaving City in midweek, of his own accord, by joining Championship side Wigan on a three and a half year deal.

That's by no means the end of his story as the ambitious youngster has big aims, with club and country and Byrne is the kind of player who should be playing a key role in Ireland's bid to qualify for Euro 2020, should the 2018 World Cup be a bit premature, though he admits he will now need to work his way up the ladder from Noel King's U21 squad.

"Naturally you want to get into the senior squad but I haven't played enough football in the last few months to deserve that, so hopefully I can get playing here at Wigan and see where that takes me," says Byrne, who trained with the senior squad last year.

He's had to take a step backwards and will now aim to prove himself in England's second tier.

Byrne follows the example of fellow Dublin northsider Ian Lawlor in leaving the luxury of Manchester City in recent weeks and dropping down a division (keeper Lawlor joined League Two side Doncaster).

But Byrne says he leaves City with a spring in his step after working with Pep.

"If I was 16 again I would still go to Man City, no second thoughts," he told The Herald, having completed a late move to Wigan just before the transfer window closed on Tuesday night.

Progressing

"I understand when people say now that young Irish players shouldn't go to a Premier League club, it's frustrating when you are doing well but not getting a chance, but you have to look at your own progress, if you are progressing in a way you are happy with, it doesn't really matter what club you are at, you will find your level.

"If you are good enough you will play," added Byrne, who had loan spells with Dutch side Cambuur (successfully) and Blackburn Rovers (an unhappy time) while a City player.

"When I was younger, I was in and around some of the best players in the world at U18 age group, training with them every day, it was an unbelievable experience. Patrick Vieira was my coach, and I can't thank them enough for making me the player I am today.

"Maybe this wouldn't have happened if I had gone to another club when I left Ireland, if I'd been taught to play another way.

"It's really difficult, as a young player at a Premier club but it's also difficult to break through at Championship clubs. If you go to a Championship club there's no guarantee you will play, so why not go and get the best education you can? And I got that at City."

Options

There were loan options for Byrne before the window closed, including the chance to return to Holland, but a chat with Wigan boss Warren Joyce made up his mind and a deal, a permanent one, was done.

"I didn't want to overstay my welcome at Manchester City. I had another 18 months left on my contract at City, I could have stayed there, happy as Larry with being in and around the first team or going on loan, with the security of that City contract to fall back on if anything went wrong," he says.

"But it was time for me to get out there and stand on my own two feet, and the opportunity to come to Wigan, and work with a coach like Warren Joyce, really persuaded me, I didn't have to think twice once I had spoken to him.

"I felt if I didn't do this, I'd regret it in a few months."

His loan at Blackburn this season did not work out as Byrne played just four league games, and the lack of football means he has to reach match fitness before he can get into the Wigan side.

"I have signed a three and a half year contract so there is no rush. I do want to get into the team and play as soon as I can but, being realistic, I am a few weeks away from being match fit, once I am at that level it's a matter of competing for a place," he says.

"One of the reasons I wanted a long-term deal and not a loan was I wanted to work on what I am not good at - but also show what I am good at, I think I lost that over the last six months, remembering what I was good at, I didn't get the chance."

Byrne's move to Wigan didn't quite match that of fellow Dubliner Robbie Brady, in terms of impact or transfer fee, but the pair do share a background as they are both from the northside and they both learned their trade at St Kevin's Boys.

And Byrne says he will always appreciate the schooling he got with the club, and especially the care he received when his dad passed away.

"Kevin's were massive for me," says Byrne.

"My manager there, Joe Quinn, was great to me. When I lost my father so young, Joe was a huge influence on me, stuff like picking me up for training, not taking the subs money off me when I couldn't afford to pay.

"That was the Kevin's way of looking after people.

"They have special people working there, Alan Caffrey is an unbelievable coach and I can't thank them enough, I am glad they are doing so well as a club and I'd love to see more Kevin's lads doing well in the game.

"I hope I am doing them proud."

  • Wigan v Sheff Weds, tonight, Sky Sports 1, 7.45

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