Friday 21 July 2017

Old enemies Burke and Byrne revelling in the Hoops' European run

Luke Byrne. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Luke Byrne. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Luke Byrne and Graham Burke were schoolboy enemies but are now best of friends as Shamrock Rovers plot a European upset.

Rovers are in the process of trying to build a functioning academy of their own but Byrne and Burke - both of whom were born in 1993 - are products of the existing system that is based around the traditional nurseries.

Efforts are ongoing to establish an U-15 league with the FAI's decision to accept St Kevin's, a former club of Byrne, infuriating Burke's alma mater Belvedere and others as they had established partnerships with League of Ireland sides.

In an ideal world, senior clubs would be developing their own talent that come up through the ranks together. That is Rovers' plan.

But at the moment, Airtricity League dressing rooms are often packed with old foes from childhood days. Burke and Byrne are an extreme example.

The former, who subsequently went to Aston Villa, was the attacking player with Belvedere. Byrne was a defender with St Kevin's and Home Farm.

"I always considered him the best in the country at my age until he went to Villa," says Byrne. "But we used to get sent off all the time for kicking each other. I remember his last ever game before he went to Aston Villa. His uncle Wayne had to take him off because me and him were going to kill each other.

Broken

"We were on a DDSL (Dublin and District Schoolboys League) trip away to South Africa and we didn't particularly like each other. In training we used to have to be put on the same team and we'd still fight."

The ice was broken on Burke's first day at Rovers last winter. "We get on great now," says Burke, who scored the goal against Stjarnan last week that set up a clash with Czech side Mlada Boleslav with the first leg at Tallaght tonight.

"It's crazy to think that so many years ago we didn't see eye to eye and now we go to the gym together, we go for coffees together, we go for breakfast together before every game. He made me feel very welcome here."

Mlada came fourth in the Czech league last term, 20 points behind title winners Slavia Prague. They play in a 5,000-capacity stadium that they struggle to fill with backing from sponsors Skoda vital.

Rovers coach Stephen Bradley has been juggling preparations with the end of his Pro Licence course and sporting director Stephen McPhail attended the pre-match press conference.

"We are well into our season so our fitness levels should be better than theirs," said McPhail. "We have to try and impose ourselves on them."

Irish Independent

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