Tuesday 16 July 2019

'Rovers move is not failure', insists Byrne

Byrne has joined a side which will have to be creative in midfield to play to the strengths of their personnel. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Byrne has joined a side which will have to be creative in midfield to play to the strengths of their personnel. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

On a cold Friday evening in Tallaght, eyes were naturally drawn to the diminutive Shamrock Rovers player wearing 16 on his back.

In a 2-0 friendly success over Brentford's B side, there was no doubting the identity of the game's most talented operator.

With a nonchalant flick, or a crisply executed pass, Jack Byrne provided a reminder that he retains all the ability that made him the most talked about teenager in Irish football a few short years ago.

It's just three years since he was starring in Holland with Cambuur, a player on loan from Manchester City with ambitions of breaking into Ireland's Euro 2016 plans.

A prediction that he would end up back home as a 22-year-old trying to kick-start his career would have been scoffed at.

Perceptions

This is where he's found himself, however, and the playmaker is looking on the bright side of the situation, asserting that he cannot control other people's perceptions.

"It wasn't as big a decision (to come home) as some people make it out," shrugged Byrne, who ended a short stay with Kilmarnock in December.

"Listen, I did eight years away. At Man City, and then Blackburn (loan), Wigan, Oldham, I was at Cambuur too. I don't think it's a failure. Some people go over at the back end of their careers at 24 and they are there until they are 32.

"I went away a little bit earlier and I have a lot left in me. I'm a young footballer and I just want to play football. I just want to get enjoying my football and enjoying games."

He admits that there is a certain novelty value to living back at home after packing his bags as a mid-teen.

There's the comfort of his mother's cooking, and a steady stream of family around him who no longer have to get on a plane to watch him play.

With the exception of Kilmarnock, all of his other clubs post-City were engaged in relegation battles and he found himself firefighting.

There was a couple of scrapes along the way too, with his time at Oldham ending contentiously following their relegation to League Two. But he has no interest in looking back with anger right now.

With Rovers, there is a demand for a title challenge and there will be European football too.

Byrne has joined a side which will have to be creative in midfield to play to the strengths of their personnel, and manager Stephen Bradley has been impressed by the high-profile recruit's work rate.

The Rovers boss was once the next big thing at Arsenal, so he can identify with Byrne's journey.

"I think that's part of the reason we got Jack to be fair," said Bradley. "He got other offers, but when we sat down to talk I think we could relate to each other.

"The pleasing thing for me is that he's left his ego at the door. He's working so hard on his fitness. On the playing side, there was never a question. I think he's showed everybody he's here to play properly and show everyone how good he is.

"Every time he steps on a pitch he believes in himself," continued Bradley, addressing the player's confident demeanour which might rub some people up in the wrong way.

Secret

"And you don't ever want to take that out of him. In order for him to carry that through, he needs to work and that's what he's doing. There's no secret to it - the rest is easy to him."

Byrne batted away a query about his Irish ambitions, arguing that there was no point in talking about that until he starts doing the business for Rovers.

Still, it would be a surprise if this big personality stayed out of the limelight for too long.

He's bound to get people talking either way, and grinned when it's put to him that he could be a marked man back in this territory. "Me? I don't care. It's a compliment if I am. I can only feed off it."

The road to recovery starts in Waterford on Friday.

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