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Bohs hotshot Jason Byrne looking for long-term goal

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Jason Byrne, Bohemians

Jason Byrne, Bohemians

SPORTSFILE

Jason Byrne, Bohemians

JASON BYRNE will be remembered as one of the great League of Ireland strikers, regardless of whether he succeeds in his mission to become the all-time record goalscorer.

But it's finding a target beyond football which is troubling the veteran attacker ahead of his 37th birthday.

The prolific poacher has signed on with Bohemians for another season and is 19 away from matching the great Brendan Bradley's record haul of 235 league goals.

Byrne knows that, realistically, he will need to keep going for at least two more years to get there and the impact of pre-season running on his body told the one-time Irish international that it will be a struggle.

The veteran admits that the record was too prominent in his mind last term and is determined to have a better season under new boss Keith Long who has informed the player that he will be rotated because of his advancing years.

The father-of-two will be sore if he falls short of Bradley's haul, but he fears that the lasting regret from his football journey will be his lack of planning for the future.

While his peers gained their coaching badges early or furthered their education in other fields, the Tallaght man concentrated on being a full-time player. He knows that was a mistake.

Regret

"Probably my biggest regret," he confessesd. "I just wanted to focus on my football and I thought that was going to last forever.

"I have my B licence now and will go on to do my A licence. I should have done it years ago. But I'm talking about in terms of a different direction in life rather than football. Where can you get a (coaching) job in Ireland? There is not many out there. It's something I need to look at this year.

"It is daunting," continued Byrne. "Especially when I haven't worked in so long (his youth at Bray).

"It plays on the mind a bit. It's up to me now this year that, while I'm still playing, I can go out and do something when the kids go to school in the morning. I will have to get my act together - I'd like to do something that I'm not used to doing."

Over Christmas, Byrne rolled back the years by catching up with his cousin Robbie Keane and other childhood pals for a five-a-side kickabout. His famous relative is also a senior citizen in football terms and pursuing coaching aims, although there is an obvious contrast in their respective situations.

"I'm sure he doesn't have to worry about the financial side of it," laughed Byrne. "We were playing a little bit to keep the heart rate up, get a bit of a sweat on and keep the weight off. It's good to get the Christmas turkey and Christmas drink out of you.

"Obviously, it was good to see his quality, his little touches and it was fantastic to get the chance to knock around with him. It was like when we were kids, playing on the streets."

Keane is a national icon, but in domestic circles Byrne is revered and he is warming to an advisory role helping his striking colleagues at Dalymount. Dinny Corcoran thrived in 2014 and earned a full-time move to Sligo. His success meant Byrne had to settle for prolonged stints on the bench, and he's adjusted to that scenario.

"When I spoke to Keith, he told me that I wouldn't play every game," continued Byrne, speaking at an event to mark online casino Mr Green extending their Bohs sponsorship.

"I know this year I'll be coming in with that mentality, a clearer mind. I'll play every game like it's my last because this could be my last season, you never know."

Byrne does care about catching Bradley and jokes that he could behave like Kevin Mirallas if penalties are awarded.

"If I get another 10 this year, I'm sure I'll be beating myself up to go for another season but we'll weigh that up," he muses, "It would probably torment me for a while (if falling short) but, as I've often said, I never thought I'd get half as many goals as I've got."

Naturally enough, the strength of Long's panel will have the biggest say on his prospects. The ex-Athlone boss is content with his winter recruitment and is optimistic that his part-time group can give a good account of themselves although an exodus of key men with Heary to Sligo illustrates where they are in the financial pecking order.

"I'm not going to make any bold statements but we'll be organised, competitive and difficult to beat," said Long.

Byrne may find the January running a slog, yet he is conscious that he will one day miss every part of this existence. The dressing room never changes, even if the faces do.

"It's the same as when I walked in at Bray 17 years ago," he sighs, "It's the same buzz, the same mentality, and I just love it. Getting up, going to training, the banter and the craic. I don't know how I will replace it when I do retire."

Irish Independent