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Dublin: 15 °C Friday 14 August, 2020

'You have to connect with the man to get to the player, and that's what we've done'

Stephen Bradley talks about how he and Rovers have helped Jack Byrne tap his potential, following a classy showing against SK Brann in Europe.

Jack Byrne celebrates.
Jack Byrne celebrates.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

JACK BYRNE FOUND his stage in Europe last night and it is ever-more apparent he has found his club and his manager in Shamrock Rovers and Stephen Bradley.

“I was that kid, so I understand where he is coming from”, said Bradley after the game.

“It’s important you know there is a man there behind the player, and you have to connect with the man to get to the player, and that’s what we’ve done.”

Having come through Manchester City’s ludicrously competitive academy and shown flashes of his talent at senior level with Cambuur in the Dutch top division, Byrne’s career drifted during underwhelming stints at clubs at varying levels of dysfunction – Wigan, Oldham and Kilmarnock.

There are some parallels with Bradley’s playing career. He too was capped at all underage levels by Ireland, and also came through an elite Premier League academy – Arsenal’s, in Bradley’s case.

Yet his career never found roots in England, and Bradley was back in Ireland with Drogheda by the time he was 21.

His playing career never fully took flight, and although Byrne is 24, last night showed there is no need yet for his career to be thought entirely in terms of talent either thwarted or unfulfilled.

Byrne is the primary reason Rovers are in the second qualifying round of the Europa League. Trailing 1-0 to SK Brann and facing elimination, Byrne scored a gorgeous equaliser before laying on a late winner for Gary O’Neill.

“It reminds me of Paul Scholes at his best, arriving in the box, staying calm and chipping the ‘keeper”, said Bradley.

“That’s a just reward. When we got Jack six months ago, he wouldn’t have ran into the box, he would have been deeper as he didn’t trust his legs and his fitness.

“Now he is fit, he’s getting in the box and when he is in there, there is no better quality in the country. We’re not finished, we’re getting there, but he is becoming a top player.

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“What we have to realise with Jack is that he has always had the ability on the ball, he has always been a nice footballer.

“Now he is becoming a proper footballer, an all-rounder. He is working for the team, he is respecting the game as a whole now and his quality on the ball is there for everyone to see. When we got him he was nice; now he is a proper player.

“When Jack was young and when we got him, Jack wanted to play when he had the ball and that was it. You have to respect the game: against good players and good teams you have to earn the right to show your quality. I just think the maturity he has shown over the last two or three months is making him an all-round, top, top player.”

The game around Byrne carried with it a happy drop of madness. Twice Rovers fans ended up on the pitch celebrating their goals, meaning that a chunk of their prize money will be sent back to Uefa in recompense, but Bradley couldn’t but be struck by the atmosphere from a 5,000-strong crowd.


Stephen Bradely celebrates Stephen Bradley at full-time. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It was a European night that had everything, really. It had two good teams, drama with a late goal, a special night. Big crowd, two proper teams going to win the game, and it is what this club is all about. This is what we are trying to get it back to, and tonight was special.

Rovers next task is, predictably, much tougher – a tie with Cypriot side Apollon Limassol, who finished third in the group stages last season, ahead of Marseille and two points behind Lazio, beating both at home. 

The first leg is in Tallaght next Thursday.

“It’s a tough game again, we watched a bit of them already, but I believe we can win the tie. It will be difficult but so was tonight. I believe in the group, I believe they are getting better every week and we can definitely go and win the tie.” 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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