Wednesday 19 June 2019

Mick Byrne - the man who made memories


Hubert Muphy

Michael 'Mick' Byrne, who passed away last week, was one of the key characters around United Park in the mid 80s when his love of Drogheda United helped inspire some memorable moments for the club.

He was larger than life at times, his character one of getting things done and in that regard, he left his mark on Drogheda soccer.

He was elected chairman of the club in April 1982 and so began a period of great acclaim - culminating in United qualifying for Europe for the first time, playing the mighty Tottenham Hotspur.

Within days of taking over at the club, he said he intended to transform United Park and the team to win back supporters bringing long awaited success to Drogheda in the process. "If we have a successful team, and a ground worthy of staging League football, then we will get the support that I know is there for Drogheda" Mr. Byrne commented in the Drogheda Independent .

With debts approaching £47,000 and the creditors closing in, Mr. Byrne's critics felt that he was mad in the first place taking the job and then talking in terms of expansion.

But expand he did. A new stand was constructed, and badly needed terracing installed on both sides of the ground, both schemes undertaken on a voluntary basis with some supporters helping out.

The then Manager, Ray Treacy was told that money would be availabe to buy new players. Many doubted that. But Tony Macken, a target for many Irish clubs was signed on his return from England, with Frank Devlin (ex Athlone), Mick Neville (ex Home Farm), Richie Bayly (ex Shamrock Rovers) and Jerome Clarke (ex Dundalk) being signed.

The rest was history. United had their best season in football, qualifying for Europe and missing a place in the Cup final by only the width of a post on a few occasions. Indeed their runners-up spot in the League could have been bettered with the aid of a goal scorer that season.

Didn't all that make Mick Byrne feel like rubbing the noses of his opponents in his success. "Not really" he said, "I'm just delighted for the club and the town, and glad that I succeeded where others had failed before me. I know that I had my critics, but I felt that I had to do things my way to achieve the results that I knew were possible."

Drogheda finished the season with a working profit, thanks mainly to £11,000 from their semi-final matches with Bohemians. The club debt was cut in half, and the club's bank manager was talking to them again after threatening to cut off their credit!

For Mick Byrne his reward for a year of hard work and worry came at the Tholsel when they qualified for Europe when thousands turned out to greet United on their return to the town. "That made the effort all worth while, for it was a night for Drogheda to remember."

Mick left the role in June 1984, "The best signing the club ever made, was new chairman, Shane McHugh's, tribute to the former chairman.

But a year later, he was back, as General Manager.

In appointing a general manager to administer all the club's affairs, team matters apart, United were, according to then P.R.O. Tony Smyth, taking a "progressive new approach."

"We are the first club in the country to do so and in so doing we have recognised that running a football club nowadays with such a big turnover is a business in itself that must be approached In a businesslike manner."

Mick kept on his tyre business, famously set across the road from Barlow House.

By 1986, United's dream was flickering, famously, Gerry Martin and Paddy Dillon sold to help the club survive.

"We had to sell to survive," he said, "it is as simple as that. Our financial position was very difficult, with the bank refusing to meet our cheques, and in order to continue in football we had to accept the offers for the players."

The strains placed on the club's resources by the new First Division, involving extra travel and lower returns at the 'gate', had been the real problem.

The funeral of Mick Byrne, a truly charismatic figure, took place to Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Saturday.

Drogheda Independent