ST PATRICK'S Athletic's Paul Byrne says he's finally starting to deliver on the potential which made him a teenage prodigy and a one-time target for Manchester City.
The 23-year-old was the hero for Pats on Friday night when they reclaimed top spot in the Premier Division table with a 1-0 win over previous leaders Dundalk, Byrne's third-minute goal the difference between the sides.
It's been a good few weeks for Byrne, who scored twice in a 6-2 aggregate win over Sligo Rovers in the semi-final of the Setanta Sports Cup.
And his form received recognition when he was named by Paul Doolin in the Ireland U23 squad for a clash with England later this month.
Byrne was just 18 when he made his League of Ireland debut, with UCD in 2004, but in spells at Belfield, Sporting Fingal and Bray Wanderers he has never really done his career justice.
"I have had a lot of injuries over the years," says Byrne. "I missed a chunk of the season here and there so it was always hard to impress.
"And a lot of the time in my career I was playing with a team who were struggling -- Bray last year and UCD for a couple of seasons, we were fighting relegation all the time. But now I'm in a Pats side which is top of the league and that has helped me a lot. I suppose this is the best run of form I've had since I came into the league with UCD.
"At Pats now, it's about winning games instead of losing them and that's good for your confidence. As a young player confidence is a big thing and it can be hard when you're losing all the time," added Byrne, who came through the renowned Cherry Orchard academy as part of a very good schoolboy side.
"We had a very good side then, we went unbeaten for a couple of years, and lads like Stephen Quinn (Sheffield United) and Gary Dicker (Brighton) are playing well across the water.
"I never really had much of a chance in England. I was at Manchester City for a while on trial but nothing came of that.
"Playing in England has never really come up for me. I've seen my old team-mates like Conor Sammon go to the UK and do well, so if it comes up I'll consider it but as of now I'm happy at Pats," said Byrne, who is still on a high after being named in that Ireland U23 panel, where the schedule next week will include a training game against the Ireland senior team.
"Being in the U23 squad is a big thing for me as I've never been capped at any level before," he says. "I was called into the U19 squad a few years ago when I was at UCD but I never played, and this is my first time since then.
"It's strange the way it happens. You have some players who get 20 or 30 caps for the Irish youth and U21 teams and others, who were very good schoolboy players, just drift away and never get a cap.
"It was just one of those things, there were lots of good strikers around in my age group so it was hard to get noticed, I was a bit unlucky in that sense.
"So this U23 squad is a big honour for me, it's a great opportunity to impress and I intend to take the chance with both hands."
Richmond Park was buzzing on Friday night as Pats ended a run of successive defeats with a hard-fought but well-deserved win over Dundalk. Their league campaign takes a break for a while now as Pats have duties in the EA Sports Cup tonight (at home to Bray Wanderers) and the Setanta Sports Cup final against Bohemians on Saturday.
"It's a big week for us. I imagine Pete Mahon will change things around for the League Cup game tonight but we're all keen to play in the final on Saturday. Pats haven't won too many trophies over the years so we're keen to do well."
Dan Connor, Alex Williams and Noel Haverty are all in line to come into the Pats side as Mahon rests players ahead of Saturday's final.