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'It wasn't a big issue when Mick was sacked' - Jack Byrne settling into life at Apoel Nicosia

Jack Byrne talks about how he is adjusting to his new life in Cyprus, and has high praise for Stephen Kenny.

Jack Byrne in action for Apoel.
Jack Byrne in action for Apoel.
Image: Marios Gregoriou/INPHO

ANY BAD NEWS? is a frequent refrain of Jack Byrne’s, and in spite of what appears to be a turbulent start to life at Apoel Nicosia, the answer remains no. 

When he grins and says it was ‘only’ 20 degrees yesterday, you can understand why.

“I’m really enjoying it, it’s different. Waking up in the morning and putting on shorts and t-shirt rather than a big jacket and a hat”, he says over a Zoom call with Irish journalists. 

Things at his football club haven’t exactly been so plain-sailing. Byrne signed a two-and-a-half year contract with Apoel in December, but within one game and two days of his arrival, Mick McCarthy was sacked as manager.

McCarthy paid a high price for presiding over a portion of a deeply underwhelming season. Apoel are the most successful club in Cyprus but rather than competing for the the title and European places, they found themselves in the wrong half of the table when the season split and so the best they can hope for is to avoid relegation and perhaps win the domestic cup. 

Byrne himself, meanwhile, has had to undergo surgery on a back problem and is out for around three months. 

“I was in talks with the club for a while, before I came out here”, says Byrne.

“It didn’t just happen in one day. I’d been speaking to the club and the president here and I got really good vibes off them. It wasn’t just Mick. Mick was obviously a factor, a big factor in me coming here as he was the man who gave me my international debut. 

“When I was at Wigan, before I was fit to even play a game, Warren Joyce got the sack and I had signed a three-and-a-half year contract. These things happen in football. You’ll probably never have the same manager for longer than two or three years and that’s just the nature of the game. 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 – showed faith that the club wanted me here. I just want to help them, it didn’t really matter who the manager was.” 

The injury rules Byrne out of contention for this month’s World Cup qualifiers, and says it would be presumptuous to speculate as to whether he’ll be for for the friendly games in June as he has to earn his place in the squad.

Stephen Kenny has nonetheless kept in touch. 

“I have to thank Stephen as he was onto me straight away when he heard I was getting the operation. It shows the kind of person he is, keeping in touch with me and seeing how it went.

“Stephen, not just as a manager but as a person, has always been really good with all of his players. If you talk to any of the lads that had him at Dundalk, or if you talk to any of the lads that had him with Ireland, he would do that.

“Before I got injured out here, he rang me asked how I was settling in, how it was going, asking about the league, just as a person, it shows the kind of person that he is also. It was nothing out of the ordinary for him but not many people would do that. If you asked anybody about Stephen, most people would say he’s a good person before he’s your manager. 

Byrne speaks highly of his new manager at club level – a former Apoel player, Savvas Poursaitidis – and in spite of the language barrier, he has already made an impression on his team-mates: they hoisted Byrne’s shirt in celebration of a goal at the weekend.

 

Once fit, Byrne wants to be part of returning Apoel to the top of Cypriot football, and believes the style of play will suit him. 

“I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think that. I definitely think the European style suits me. 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.

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“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. The level of expectation here is massive, and it’s nice to be involved in that.

“There’s no doubt this club will be back. This club shouldn’t be where they are and won’t be where they are for long as they won’t accept it. There’s a reason why they are the most successful club over here.

“This was the biggest chance that came up and the one that stood out to me: where I could grow as a person and learn. I was going to work under a manager who knew me, knew my strengths – not for too long as everyone knows – but the thinking in coming out here was for me to learn a new way of life and 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.

“You are playing a different style of football, I do want to coach one day and I see how other teams in other countries do things and the way they approach it. Away from the football, the sports science stuff, all that over here is different to anything I’ve seen before and that’s good.

“It is going to be a great learning experience. I am going to be 27 when I finish my contract here, if I stay for the two and half years and if I stay for longer, brilliant. Even at 27, I am still a young man. I can go and do something else, play somewhere else, or I could finish my career here.” 

 Jack Byrne was speaking to promote the Spar FAI School Zone. For more details and registration, visit: https://www.fai.ie/domestic/spar-fai-school-zone/register/

 

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