Jack Byrne has dismissed suggestions that his dream move to Cyprus has turned into a nightmare.
And the midfielder has stated his desire to return to action in the summer, possibly in time for a series of international matches under Stephen Kenny, even though it appeared that his season has been written off after he was forced to undergo surgery on a back problem.
When the Dubliner signed for Cypriot side APOEL late last year, at the end of a season with Shamrock Rovers where he won a league title, the aim was clear: to help the Mick McCarthy-managed side work their way up from mid-table and secure European qualification for next season, APOEL a club used to competing on the European stage.
Instead, McCarthy was sacked 24 hours after he gave Byrne his debut for APOEL, and in McCarthy’s absence Byrne’s season was at first held up by a lack of fitness and then ended when the player and his employers agreed that he needed an operation to cure a back injury, effectively ruling Byrne out of action for three months.
APOEL failed to finish in the top half of the table when the Cypriot league split so they are in what’s called the relegation round, leaving the Cypriot Cup as their only route to Europe.
But Byrne is adamant that Cyprus has not been a dead-end in his career, coming after previous wrong turns with Wigan and Oldham, and instead he feels the move will make him a better player.
“I definitely think the European style suits me,” says Byrne.
“Most people understand that, people who have seen me play will probably say, ‘He suits Europe more than he suits England’, but that’s not to say I couldn’t play in England as I would love to give it a go again one day.
“I had options to do that. But I chose to come here because it’s a big club, I think the style suits me, and I don’t regret it. I love it out here, it’s all going really well.
"It’s unfortunate I’ve had an injury, but the club have been great and are very supportive. I’m happy, it’s a big club. I think people outside of Cyprus maybe don’t realise it is such a big club.
"The level of expectation here is massive, and it’s nice to be involved in that,” he says.
“Being out here, in a huge club like APOEL, gives me the opportunity to hopefully play European football and win league titles because that is what this club is used to and they don’t accept anything less.
"It comes with the pressure of having to be at your best most weeks and having to win every game. That’s what I want. That is the challenge I was looking for.
“It was the biggest chance that came up, the one that stood out to me, where I could grow as a person, learn, I was going to work under a manager who knew me, knew my strengths.
"The thinking in coming out here was for me to learn a new way of life, a new culture. I am going to play with players who I’d never get the chance to play with, a lot of Spanish and Portuguese players, Greek players, we have four Brazilians in the squad.”
He was rocked by the sight of McCarthy getting the sack a day after Byrne’s debut, but he’s been there before, as Wigan boss Warren Joyce signed Byrne but was sacked before they could work together.
“You’ll probably never have the same manager for longer than two or three years and that’s just the nature of the game," he said.
"It wasn’t a big issue when Mick was sacked because I knew the conversations I had with the club before I came out, and the length of the contract which is two-and-a-half years, that showed faith that the club wanted me here. I just want to help them, it didn’t really matter who the manager was," he says.
A back injury was nagging him so the decision was made to operate. “I played the first couple of weeks but it just got a little too sore to carry on. The club were brilliant, it was a joint decision and in the best interests for me getting back fully fit and being 100% fit to play.
"Every footballer has issues, an issue they have to manage when you’re feeling a little sore. For me, it was my back was too sore to carry on. I tried to get through a couple of games with it around the end of January, beginning of February. But it was just too sore and I didn’t expect it to be as sore as it was,” he says.
Byrne spoke to Stephen Kenny before making the move and was assured that a spell in Cyprus would not damage his international hopes, while Kenny was also in contact to offer support after he had surgery.
His club said last week that Byrne would be out for three months but the midfielder has not ruled out the idea of featuring in summer friendlies with Ireland.
“I’m eight days after the operation and I feel a lot better, I just have to let it heal. It might heal in two weeks, it might heal in four weeks, then you start your rehab and it will be a couple of weeks before I can train and build up fitness," he said.
"That’s all it’s going to be there, building up fitness. As soon as I can build up fitness, I’ll feel ready enough to play. Certainly I’ll be optimistic that by June time, I’ll be able to play,” he added.
SPAR FAI School Zone was launched by current Ireland footballers, Jack Byrne and Amber Barrett. SPAR FAI School Zone is a new digital learning initiative that has been designed by the FAI and sponsored by Spar for teachers and parents of primary school children in 4th, 5th and 6th class offering interactive and engaging lesson plans designed with both the classroom and home schooling in mind. Register SPAR FAI School Zone for today at: https://www.fai.ie/domestic/spar-fai-school-zone/register