Wednesday 23 January 2019

Byrne: I played for Ireland with lads who saw us as a B team


Luke Byrne. Photo: Sportsfile
Luke Byrne. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Shamrock Rovers defender Luke Byrne has spoken of his frustration at sharing Irish underage dressing rooms with players who viewed it as a "B team" option compared to England.

And that's why he is opposed to Declan Rice receiving a call back into the Ireland senior squad after he took time to deliberate over his international future.

Byrne (25) was part of Ireland squads at U-19 and U-21 level in his younger days.

He was unimpressed by the attitude of certain team-mates recruited under eligibility rules and believes the FAI need to be careful about who they call up at that level.

"I played U-19 and U-21 international and there were lads there that I knew had no intention of playing for Ireland and had never seen Ireland outside of Dublin Airport," said Byrne (above), speaking on the latest LOI Weekly podcast.

"It doesn't sit right with me that they take caps off kids from here.

"I remember my first squad and I was looking around and counting how many lads were Irish-born.

"Now some of the lads that were English-born were fully committed, no question about that, but there's some who I think see us as the B team.

"If Declan Rice has to think about it then, no, good luck to you. Personally, I think at this stage that no - I don't want him back."

His view was shared by UCD midfielder Gary O'Neill, another former Irish underage international.

Kerryman O'Neill was involved in the Irish set-up when he was at Wolves and played alongside Jack Grealish.

The pair were pals, but O'Neill never truly believed that Grealish had ambitions of sticking with Ireland for the long haul.

"He was on the same Irish team as me," said O'Neill. "I wouldn't say Jack is a close friend to me any more but at the time I would have been close to him.

"I think if England U-21 had come calling, he would have gone there - he would have wanted to play with the better players.

"I never really got the impression that he would go on to play for us."

O'Neill grew up in a GAA heartland - although he had no interest in ever playing himself - and suggested that Ireland would have a stronger hand if it wasn't for the pull of the national game.

His father is prominently involved in schoolboy football in Kerry and was the manager of rising GAA star David Clifford's Kennedy Cup team. O'Neill is convinced he could have excelled in that code.

"If he had really wanted to, I think David would have gone to England," said O'Neill.

"He was an unbelievable soccer player, an absolute animal - very different to GAA where he's stylish and a scorer.

"In soccer, he's a centre-half, big strong and physical - heads it and kicks it. He could have done really good things I think. But he's from Fossa which is GAA dominated."

Irish Independent

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