Sport Soccer

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Where are they now? DAMIEN BYRNE (Former League of Ireland star)

A LATE starter to soccer, only taking it up seriously at 16, Damien Byrne soon made up for lost time. Initially a centre-forward, he was switched to centre-back by Ray Treacy at Drogheda United, and enjoyed his best days in that position in a career that began in the early 1970s and continued up to the '90s .

"I only won one League title," he recalled, "but I have no regrets and lots of happy memories."

He lost out on one medal early in his career when he decided to leave Home Farm in 1974, the season they won the FAI Cup, but Dundalk came calling. Signed by John Smith, he was later let go by Jim McLaughlin, thus missing out on a lot more medals.

However, Jimmy McAlinden signed him for Drogheda United and he enjoyed a longer stint there, reaching the FAI Cup final in 1976, and generally being quite successful.

"The best player I ever played with was at Drogheda: Martin Donnelly from Belfast. He was a class act, and went on to play with San Diego for a few years."

Although Drogheda qualified for the UEFA Cup in 1982, he left to join Crusaders under Tommy Jackson, and then spent another two years with Ards. So impressed were the Northern football writers that they voted him Player of the Year, even though Ards were not a successful team.

He came back to the League of Ireland for former Home Farm team-mate, Dermot Keely, at Shamrock Rovers, but it didn't work out. "Half-way through the season Brian Kerr came in for me -- and the St Pat's thing took off."

Byrne was the bit of experience which Kerr's young team lacked. "I was a leader on the pitch, I could organise things."

St Pat's won the League title with a team of talented youngsters -- Dave Henderson, Curtis Fleming, Pat Kelch, John McDonnell, Mick Moody, Paul Osam, John Tracey, Maurice O'Driscoll, Mark Ennis, Joe Lawless and Tony O'Connor -- and Byrne.

That year, 1990, Byrne completed a unique double when he was honoured by the Republic's soccer scribes with their Personality of the Year award.

Damien, who has worked in the Post Office for 38 years, enjoyed plenty of travel thanks to his football, with trips to Korea with Shamrock Rovers, New Zealand with the League of Ireland, and Iran, Libya, Bucharest and Edinburgh with St Pat's.

After retiring, he put in six years running a team for Belvedere Boys. Among the group was Brendan Moloney, who is in the Nottingham Forest squad bidding to make the Championship play-off final.

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