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‘I got a personal text from Mick McCarthy to say well done. He didn’t have to do that, it was a really nice touch’

SWAI Player of the Month Jack Byrne discusses returning to Ireland, his recent international call-up and his ambitions with Shamrock Rovers.

Byrne was called into Mick McCarthy's squad for recent qualifiers against Gibraltar and Georgia.
Byrne was called into Mick McCarthy's squad for recent qualifiers against Gibraltar and Georgia.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

FOR THE SECOND time in the space of three weeks Jack Byrne is sitting down politely shaking hands with journalists, with the midfielder preparing to reflect on his latest personal accolade.

The Dubliner takes his seat having been awarded the Soccer Writers of Ireland’s Player of the Month for March, casting his mind back on a whirlwind few weeks where he joined a short list of League of Ireland footballers to receive a senior international call-up.

With Callum O’Dowda a late withdrawal through injury, Byrne was called up by Mick McCarthy for the recent Euro 2020 qualifier victories against Gibraltar and Georgia. The 22-year-old was not expecting the call one bit, he says, and relished the experience entirely.

“It was obviously a good month,” Byrne said speaking from Shamrock Rovers’ Roadstone training centre yesterday. “It [the award] was probably unexpected with how the month panned out and the call-up. But yeah, a mad month and one I was very grateful for.”

He tries to remember if he has ever received a Player of the Month award before, and comes to the conclusion that he had, in fact, been named in the Eredivisie Team of the Week back in May 2016, while he was on loan from Manchester City at SC Cambuur.

Jack Byrne Byrne scored a wonder-strike against Sligo Rovers on 15 March in Tallaght. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“I got into the Team of the Month a few times,” he smiles thinking back on his time in Holland. “I might of got the Player of the Month, I’m not sure. I can’t remember, it was a long time ago now. I got a few Team of the Months and stuff.”

It must seem like an eternity ago now, with his Man City spell followed by stays at Wigan, Kilmarnock and most recently Oldham Athletic. Now back in Dublin surrounded by friends and family giving his best again, Byrne has arrived back at a happy place in his life. “It’s nice to be home,” he says.

This week’s award was not given on the basis of his international call-up, but rather for his impressive, dynamic performances in the green and white of Rovers since arriving in Tallaght at the beginning of 2019.

In March he scored three goals in two games, bagging a brilliant individual strike from outside the box against Sligo Rovers, before netting a double two weeks later in a 3-1 victory at home to UCD.

Ireland boss McCarthy was in attendance at Tallaght Stadium for his wonder-strike against Sligo and called him up shortly afterwards. Byrne previously trained with Martin O’Neill’s squad prior to Euro 2016 but said it was good to be back in the mix for the two wins against Gibraltar and Georgia.

Source: SSE Airtricity/YouTube

“He was good with me and gave me the chance to come in and join the squad,” the midfielder says of McCarthy. “In training and stuff he was very good to me, pulling me all the time and giving me advice. It was nice to be in [a squad] around that quality of player.

In training, sometimes I was playing on the right and I’d have Seamus Coleman behind me. Stuff like that was brilliant. It was a great experience to take away. It was a good week.”

With his call-up, Byrne joined Graham Burke as recent League of Ireland players to be called into a senior Ireland squad. Coming from a domestic side, rather than playing for a Premier League or Championship club, made no difference to his experience.

“Once training gets going all of that goes out the window,” he explains. “I don’t think people are looking and going ‘League of Ireland’. If you do well in training you can hold your own. That goes out the window.

“No matter where you come from, if you go into training and you’re not impressing or you are impressing, I don’t think anyone is thinking ‘he’s playing for blah blah blah’. If you’re doing well in training, people will go off that. Nobody cares what club you’re at.”

Jack Byrne and Seamus Coleman Jack Byrne and Seamus Coleman during a training session ahead of Ireland's trip to Gibraltar. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He maintains ambitions to be called into another international squad in the future, but admits that the decision is beyond his control. The manager decides the squad, so Byrne says he has to stick to what he can control, which is his own performances for Rovers.

“I enjoyed it and would have loved to come on and play, anyone would. When you’re there, you’re itching to come on and play. You’d want to be mad if you didn’t want to get on the pitch. But you have players like Alan Judge and James Collins, the League One Player of the Season, who didn’t get a minute on the pitch either.

It’s hard to say whether you’ve done enough to stay in contention or whatever. There will be players coming back from injury for the next squad but all I can do is keep my head down and try my best.”

Byrne says that McCarthy has been in contact since the 23-man squad all went their separate ways after the 1-0 win against Georgia, with the manager sending each player a personal message in the intervening weeks.

“The manager texted us and kind of said well done and that, which was really nice as he didn’t have to do that,” Byrne says. “It was nice to get that, a text to say thanks and thanks for the week. It was a personal text — it was nice of him. A really nice touch.”

Jack Byrne celebrates after the game Byrne was named SWAI Player of the Month for March this week. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The 22-year-old says self-belief has been paramount to his recent form. Byrne has not just impressed with his goal-scoring so far this season, but his overall commanding displays controlling and patrolling Shamrock Rovers’ midfield.

The Hoops are currently top of the table, eight points clear of Bohemians in second place, with Rovers’ stamp as title contenders fully forged now as the club seeks a first Premier Division crown since 2011 under Michael O’Neill.

I had belief that if he wanted me on the pitch then I could have done a job for him,” Byrne says of his Ireland call-up. “I don’t think [Mick] would have called me up as a token gesture. I think he genuinely felt that I could make an impact and so did I, if I was called upon.

“You can’t go on to the pitch thinking I don’t deserve to be here, I felt as if I was called upon I could have helped the team. There are other players there as well who would have felt the same, Alan Judge and James Collins.

“Judgey is playing really well in the Championship, I am sure if he was called upon he would have felt the same. You have to be ready to step in, training during the week was going well, not just for me but for everybody.”

SSE Airtricity/SWAI March Player of the Month The Dubliner has scored three Premier Division goals so far this season for Shamrock Rovers from midfield. Source: Paul Mohan Media

Ireland will undertake a warm-weather training camp in Portugal in June, a squad Byrne hopes to get the nod for. But for now he intends to focus solely on his club form, with Rovers seeking to extend their lead tonight at home to Waterford.

With his current form, Ireland call-up and Player of the Month award, it won’t be long before the topic of bigger ambitions and a potential return to England come knocking. The midfielder isn’t interested in that for now though, insisting that he can achieve his ambitions with Rovers.

Of course you can,” he says. “It’s already led to something I would never have thought would happen, so why can’t it happen again?

“Who is to say I need to go and play somewhere else. Who is to say that option will even come up? I am happy here, I am enjoying my football and I got the rewards.”

His manager, Stephen Bradley, says we haven’t even seen the best of the young Dubliner. Byrne has achieved a lot in a short space of time already, Bradley states, but the midfielder can push on to another level again.

“I’m delighted for him,” Bradley says. “He’s worked really hard from the first day he has come in. I keep saying it, I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Jack, I really don’t. I’ve seen him better than what he’s shown here.

Jack Byrne The 22-year-old hopes to make it into more Ireland squads in the near future. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“He’s been very good and now with his Ireland call-up and his Player of the Month award, he deserves it. But I genuinely believe there is more to come from him. The more games he gets, the fitter he gets and I just think we’ll see a different player on a different level, because his ability is there for all to see. I just think he’ll go to another level.”

A lot of milestones and achievements secured already since returning home, but more work to be done to reach even greater heights, it seems — still just 22 and with his entire career ahead of him waiting to be grasped.

Back in Dublin surrounded by friends and family having departed these shores at just 15-years-old, Jack Byrne says he is happy to be home. It is clear for all to see that this renewed sense of pleasure and contentment has been reflected in his displays on the football pitch, too.

Back enjoying his football and reaping the rewards of it.

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Aaron Gallagher

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