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'I'm walking into a dressing room where I’m probably the only person who hasn’t won a league title'

Ireland U21 defender Andy Lyons on adjusting to full-time football at Shamrock Rovers and watching Evan Ferguson at 14.

Andy Lyons pictured at the Ireland U21 press conference today.
Andy Lyons pictured at the Ireland U21 press conference today.
Image: Tom Maher/INPHO

IT’S BEEN a whirlwind couple of months for Andy Lyons.

Last November, he suffered the heartache of losing an FAI Cup final, playing the full 120 minutes as Bohemians ultimately were beaten by St Patrick’s Athletic on penalties.

Since then, the 21-year-old has made the move to reigning champions Shamrock Rovers and appears to be settling in well.

Lyons was crucial to a dramatic comeback in their most recent fixture, as he won the penalty that began their revival amid a 2-2 draw at home to Sligo Rovers.

“I think he showed what he is going to bring to us in an attacking sense,” manager Stephen Bradley said afterwards. “He was excellent like they all were second half, he was very good.”

The youngster will be hoping to take his good form onto the international stage, as Ireland U21s face a crucial Euros qualifier against group rivals Sweden on Tuesday.

“In the League of Ireland, everyone kind of knows each other and how teams are going to play, and the set-ups are completely different at international level,” he says.

“Obviously there are a lot more technical players and you’re coming up against people who have played in competitions like Champions League and Europa League, there’s a lot of experience within the young lads you’re playing against.

“So there is a big difference, probably the technical players being a massive one, but there are great standards at both levels.”

While Lyons has made the transition look relatively seamless, he says adjusting to full-time football with Shamrock Rovers has not been easy by any means.

“We played the cup final and then obviously the move to Rovers came about, and it was straight into Rovers then, into full-time football and it kind of took me a few weeks to adapt and get used to training in the mornings and stuff like that.

“Now I’ve probably adapted to it well but the first few weeks it was just getting used to getting up early, getting yourself ready for training in the mornings and then obviously working out your schedule and routine for after training as opposed to training at night.

“That was probably the biggest difference, the time difference, training in the mornings as opposed to the evenings, but after a few weeks you get used to it and I’m fully in my stride now and enjoying it.”

He continues: “The expectancy is one big thing I noticed, I’m walking into a dressing room where I’m probably the only person who hasn’t won a league title because Jack [Byrne] came back having won one there before.

“That mental shift of expectancy, the expectancy to win games, every game you play, you’re expected to win. Dealing with that pressure is a big difference. That was one mental shift I found when I walked into the dressing room.”

In contrast with his time at Bohemians, Lyons now is free most evenings to do what he wants and he is determined to use this time wisely.

“Getting up early in the mornings and doing your extras early in the morning as opposed to night is big. You can do your gym work after your training session and then you’re getting your extra sleep and recovery after training whether it be through naps or going to bed earlier.

“I’ve started by Uefa B licence the other day as well. We’re doing online modules at night so that obviously helps me as well, training in the mornings, that I can then do them.

“I’ve only just done one module on Monday. It’s probably looking at the game from a different perspective, which is interesting. As a player, I suppose you’re looking at it through a player’s lens. With a coach, it’s from a different perspective and you’re analysing games in a different way.

“If I play a game, I’m mostly analysing my performance at right-back or right wing-back, wherever it may be, whereas as a coach you’re analysing the whole thing, maybe different positions you haven’t touched on or been involved with before. It’s definitely different, it’s just changed the perspective really.”

Coaching licences are invariably something players focus on closer to the end of their career, but Lyons is happy to buck this trend.

“I’d like to be a coach at some stage in my career, not any time soon, but for after football and I’m just thinking if I can get it done now, why wait five, six, seven, eight years? I went to a full-time environment so I have time on my hands in the evening so it was just something to do, something I’m interested in. I may as well do it now — there’s no better time than the present.”

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And has it made him think differently about his own game?

“In the last few days, we’ve been analysing a few of the Irish performances, like Portugal for example. You’re looking at the likes of Matt Doherty and Seamus Coleman and you see different bits and pieces but when you see it from a different perspective you see different things and can learn from them too. You do learn stuff and it’s interesting watching it from a different perspective and watching people in greater detail is enjoyable.”

Lyons hopes to emulate the likes of Doherty and Coleman in the senior team someday, but for now, he is focused on the task at hand with the 21s.

One familiar face in Jim Crawford’s squad from his Bohemians days is 17-year-old striker Even Ferguson, who has since moved on to Brighton and already made a Premier League debut for the Seagulls.

“It’s a bit of a weird one because I was playing with him when he was only 14,” Lyons recalls. “That’s a bit mad to say because he’s so young. Even I remember his debut, we played against Derry away, and he was only 14 and he was holding off centre-backs. It was unbelievable to watch.

“Obviously his transition, he’s a very level-headed guy, very humble. I kind of knew the path he was going on and catching up with him with the 21s, he’s got even stronger and more physical and that’s a bit mad to say because even when he was 14 he was extremely strong, holding off defenders. It’s great to see his development and, again, look, he’s still only 17, he’s so very young and a lot of development in him. He’s certainly a great talent.

“You can see, if you just search up on any social media platform, his finishing is incredible. I don’t think I’ve seen a better finisher since I’ve been playing, not that that’s been a long time. But his finishing is unbelievable and his hold-up play is great as well so he has many attributes apart from his strength at a young age. 

“He’s certainly much stronger than me. He’s an animal. He’s very strong, It’s a great thing to have, and he certainly uses it on the pitch.”

Originally published at 13.21

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Paul Fennessy

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