Jack Byrne hoping to finally find his feet in Ireland squad
After some false moves, things are turning around for Shamrock Rovers’ goalscorer
Jack Byrne at Republic of Ireland Squad Training at the FAI National Training Centre in Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Aiden O’Brien joined up with the Ireland squad on Wednesday, and the 25-year-old was handed a bag of gear pitch-side to change into after arriving late for day three of the squad’s preparation for the European Championship qualifiers against Gibraltar and Georgia.
The problem was that when the call came through, the Millwall striker was not at home in London, but strolling around Dublin zoo after having taken a couple of days to relax on what was shaping up to be a week off. When his phone rang, the sightseeing had to be cut short so O’Brien could fly home to pick up his gear. After an early start on Wednesday, he finally linked up with the group as they went through their paces in the sunshine out at Abbotstown.
O’Brien started three of Ireland’s final five games of 2018, scoring on his debut, and came on in another. He made Mick McCarthy’s original squad of 38 then missed the cut. If he was surprised by the late call-up, then spare a thought for Jack Byrne, who last got to train with the senior squad three years and at least as many clubs ago.
The 22-year-old says he did not even know that the international management team were watching last week as he turned Shamrock Rovers’ defeat of Sligo into something of a one-man show. Having caught their eye, he was drafted in and while that might well be the extent of it on this occasion, he sees his involvement as another part in the long learning process he embarked upon when he left Manchester City in 2017.
‘Real football world’
“I probably didn’t know what the real football world was like,” he says. “When you leave a big club, it is what it is.”
There is no great shame in a kid failing to crack the first team at a club like City, but the more puzzling part of the Jack Byrne story for most people is how he couldn’t quite make all his talent count at the clubs he went to next.
“I don’t really know what went wrong,” he admits himself now. “I signed for clubs and managers have been sacked two or three weeks after I signed a three-year deal; that’s difficult. Options come up, you think, ‘should I have taken that one?’ Teams start flying, you make decisions and at the time you think it’s a good decision, but then it might not be in the long run. I feel it has made me stronger and a better player, though.”
His first spell out on loan, at Cambuur, then in the Dutch top flight, only seemed to confirm what everybody had been saying, or hearing, about his potential. But he chose his next move poorly, persuaded, he says, by Owen Coyle’s promises of regular game-time and the notion the manager planted that Pep Guardiola would be able to pop up the road to see him play.
‘Didn’t start well’
“Football doesn’t work like that, though, and things didn’t start well,” recalls the 22-year-old. “Weso [Hoolahan] was unbelievable on the day we lost 4-1 to Norwich. He ran the show. The manager is under pressure straight away and has to get results. Back then I couldn’t get my head around that, maybe. I was young and thinking, ‘I need to be in every team, every team, every team and be the best player every week.’ With the experience I have now, I would have done a lot different, but you only learn when you go through it.”
He had his moments, but spells at Wigan, Oldham and Kilmarnock weren’t triumphs either, although he feels he certainly could have turned things around in Scotland under Steve Clarke, a coach he speaks highly of. Having arrived late and seen an already settled team do well, however, he struggled to get in and opted to come home in order start afresh with Rovers.
“My Ma was delighted to get me home,” he laughs. Stephen Bradley must be chuffed too at this stage. And Byrne is suddenly thriving. After almost eight years of being Irish football’s “next big thing”, it feels as though there might finally be good things around the corner for the gifted midfielder.