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Wednesday 13 November 2019

'I have had knocks but I came back stronger' - Byrne

Jack Byrne trains under the watchful eye of Ireland boss Mick McCarthy at Abbotstown yesterday
Jack Byrne trains under the watchful eye of Ireland boss Mick McCarthy at Abbotstown yesterday
Jack Byrne has been in fine form for Shamrock Rovers, typified by this strike in last week’s win over Sligo Rovers

The two years spent between his first and second bout of involvement with the Ireland senior team could be described as neither heaven nor hell but limbo.

But Jack Byrne, now 22 and with the bit between his teeth at Shamrock Rovers, says he has steeled himself to make an impact at international level if called upon.

When he was called into train with the senior squad by Martin O'Neill in March 2016, Byrne was high on confidence, thanks to a successful spell on loan from Manchester City.

He spoke about his hopes of making it into the Ireland team (not just the squad) and intended to try, at least, to break through at Manchester City.

Ill-fated

What followed was a series of wrong turns and dead ends for Byrne: an unhappy loan spell at Blackburn, an ill-fated move to a Wigan side would would soon be relegated, yet another bad move, this time to Oldham, and a spell with Kilmarnock where he barely played, leaving the SPL late last year to sign for Shamrock Rovers.

"Look, these things happen but maybe these things were a blessing in disguise," he says. "I'm just grateful I've learned from my decisions, I've learned from the experience and I'm happy I've had that experience, even though I've had tough times.

"Don't get me wrong, they were tough times and who's to say there won't be more tough times ahead. I'm grateful for them. It's made me stronger."

Football in his native city with Rovers, and the fact of being at home for his mother's cooking ("It's brilliant, staying in me ma's and getting spoiled, dinners and everything cooked for me for the first time in eight years") contribute to making the 2019-era Byrne a happier individual than the one who watched in frustration as outposts like Oldham and Wigan threatened to become a career graveyard.

Experienced

"I am still the same person, I am more experienced, I know what makes me tick, I know what I need to do, I was still learning back then and probably didn't know what the real football world was like, when you leave a big club," he says.

Byrne was 19 and in form with the Irish U21s when O'Neill asked him to train with the seniors in the build-up to Euro 2016, though it seemed that O'Neill and Roy Keane were not that taken with the brashness which came from Byrne.

"It wasn't said to me, Roy didn't really speak to me, either did Martin, I wasn't in the squad, I was only up there training," he says.

"I loved it, it was an honour and I was so young getting the call up, you can't explain putting a 19-year-old in that position and what they will say, how they will react when there are cameras in front of you and the whole country wants to talk about it, it took me a while to get my head around it.

"Sometimes I look back and think it was a mad week but I am grateful for the experience."

Stellar

It could turn out that last week's win for his club at home to Sligo Rovers was the sliding doors moment for Byrne.

The entire FAI coaching staff of Mick McCarthy, Robbie Keane, Terry Connor and Stephen Kenny were all there to see his stellar display, capped off by a wonder goal.

"I didn't even know the management were at the game. Obviously I saw pictures that they were there afterwards but never in a million years would I have thought it would have led to this and I'm just very grateful to be here," he says, praising the facilities at the Hoops.

"The kids have a great chance up there, I wish I had that when I was a kid coming up.

"I think it's a good time for Irish football, I think Rovers are doing it right and trying to do it right.

"When I walked in I knew it was not going to be a walk in the park."

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