Sport Soccer

Sunday 17 December 2017

Burning Ambition

Rival captains Stuart Byrne (left) and Owen Heary will do battle for the right to lift the Setanta Sports Cup at Tallaght stadium tomorrow evening. DAVID MAHER / SPORTSFILE
Rival captains Stuart Byrne (left) and Owen Heary will do battle for the right to lift the Setanta Sports Cup at Tallaght stadium tomorrow evening. DAVID MAHER / SPORTSFILE

IT comes as no surprise to learn that Stuart Byrne is planning to go into management. The St Patrick's Athletic midfielder is an obvious candidate.

He considers every question carefully, veering away from the soundbite and the one-line answers.

As his good mate Owen Heary, who will be on the opposite side in tomorrow's Setanta Sports Cup final between the Saints and Bohemians observes: "Stuey thinks an awful lot about different things, not only the game."

But it's the game that really gets Byrne talking. The 33-year-old acknowledges that the end of his career is approaching, and muses that this upcoming final, the fifth of his career, could be his last.

It's a time for reflection. The Dubliner is concerned about the future development of the game in this country, glad that his football prime coincided with the glory days of Shelbourne, the magical European nights and the league title successes. Money wise, it was a good time to be around as well; he agrees that a far more uncertain world awaits those who are setting off on their career road now.

Byrne considered retirement after his status as a full-time player ceased upon his departure from Drogheda United, the one club where he enjoyed success in the Setanta Cup joy at the expense of Linfield.


Now, he mixes his commitment to St Pat's with retraining for the working world. Specialising in 3D architectural visualisation -- a concept rarely discussed at League of Ireland press days -- the Finglas man is honing his portfolio in order to find employment.

"Who knows what's around the corner?" he said. "What football used to be for me was everything. It was my job. So I strived to be better.

"Now things could change. I'm working now for myself. I'm back in the working environment and things are tough. Your concentration levels are split down the middle, so it's become a very delicate balancing act.

"I considered (retirement) strongly. That probably would have been the easy way out. I suppose it made me realise that football wasn't everything, that there are other things out there that are important, although management would probably appeal to me in the future."

The 2009 season really made him think. He was attracted to Inchicore by then boss Jeff Kenna, but entered a dressing-room different to what he knew. From the top down, he felt the attitude was wrong.

The arrival of Pete Mahon in September restored normality and, in time, organisation and desire.

Hence the competitive edge at the right end of the table, with Byrne's experience vital to their charge.

His early days at the Saints reminded him of his youth -- a flippant attitude to football which was perhaps acceptable in the embryonic stages of his League of Ireland adventure where the set-up truly was part time.

The sincere hope is that the dalliance with professionalism has left such a mark on his generation that, regardless of the financial circumstances in the future, the overall methodology and lifestyle will be conducive to improvement.

Deep down, he wonders if there's something in the Irish psyche which needs to be overcome.

"It was very frustrating last year, I was in the place a week and I sensed danger," he admitted. "Without harping on about it, it's difficult to go to another club and the mentality is totally different.

"Basically, that's probably what our problem is (in Ireland) -- our mentality. The talent is there. The infrastructure may or may not be there, but it's just our whole mentality, the whole ethos.


"It's from schoolboy up. I remember myself as a schoolboy, you would turn up for training and just have a kickaround. Even at U-16 and U-17 level. I haven't been involved in any schoolboy team lately, but I'd like to think things are starting to change.

"I went to see Cherry Orchard and Belvedere in the Dublin U-17 Cup last Sunday. Belvedere were fantastic. They were passing the ball, they had a really good attitude about them and you could see they had an awareness of shape and of what was going around them. Cherry Orchard were the same.

"The future looks good if that's the standard that's going throughout schoolboy level. The days of turning up for training and just having a kickaround, I'd like to think, are gone."

Looking back, he reckons that the quality of football in this country in the past six to seven years has been the best he can remember, with Shelbourne's Euro run of 2004 the pinnacle.

"What I would fear is that it may retract a bit," he mused. "There are certain standards there, especially from the coaches and managers, that they have to take an awful lot of credit for.

"Even though we're part time, it feels like we are a full-time club. There is that focus on diet and professionalism and training is still to a very high level."

Keeping the likes of Byrne and Heary in the game will be central to ensuring that standard remains.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport