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Dublin: 12 °C Sunday 15 September, 2019
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'There was loads of tears. You hear the crowd and think: Jesus Christ, I'm actually in this situation'

Jack Byrne reflects on making his first senior international appearance for Ireland last night.

JACK BYRNE IS all smiles and handshakes as he sits down to discuss what has probably been the best night of his career so far.

His journey of going to Manchester City as a teenager, battling through tough times in England and Scotland and coming back home to rekindle his career at Shamrock Rovers is well-known and well-told by this stage.

bozhidar-kraev-and-jack-byrne Bulgaria’s Bozhidar Kraev and Jack Byrne battle for the ball. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

But make no bones about it, yesterday’s senior Ireland debut was an emotionally-charged occasion for the Dubliner as he galloped from the touchline onto the pitch against Bulgaria.

Mick McCarthy had a quick, quiet word in his ear. “Go out and enjoy it, Jack,” the manager said. There were high-fives with James McClean, Glenn Whelan and Enda Stevens as he took off his bib and made his way across.

Entering the field of play to replace Alan Judge, it was a moment he had waited for his entire life and now, casting his mind back, it all seems like a blur. Despite a poor attendance of just over 18,000, a loud roar could be heard echoing up through the night’s sky.

“It’s a hard one to describe,” he says leaning back, eyes wide. “I’ve never had a feeling like that going out on the football pitch. Nervous excitement. I wanted to do well and get on the ball and impress my family, impress everybody else.

“To just step on the pitch was a bonus. It’s a blur when you get on the pitch. You’re not looking at the stadium or taking it all in, only when you score a goal you hear the crowd cheering, you think ‘Jesus Christ I’m actually in this situation.’” 

jack-byrne Shamrock Rovers midfielder Jack Byrne made his senior Ireland debut last night. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“When you’re in the moment you don’t really pay attention to [the crowd]. It’s only when my brother sent me a video of me coming onto the pitch I heard it. I was just looking at the ball trying to get a touch but when I watched it back the hair on the back of my neck stood up, and I was thinking ‘wow that actually happened.’”

Byrne didn’t just make a standard cameo off the substitutes bench, but put in a serious shift for the final half an hour at the Aviva Stadium. He picked up an assist for Kevin Long’s header, swinging in a corner, and was also instrumental in James Collins’ late goal too.

He has spoken before about the impact his mam Jackie has had on his career, especially the love and support she has provided since returning home to Dublin late last year. Getting the chance to pay her back made it all worthwhile, he says.

“There was loads of tears. She was just really happy for me. All my family were there and people who have supported me through tough times as well. It hasn’t always been like this, it’s well documented. I can’t thank them enough because it means a lot to me. 

james-mcclean-congratulates-jack-byrne-on-an-assist Byrne provided the assist for Kevin Long's header and was also instrumental in James Collins' goal. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Standing in the middle of the pitch hearing those roars and looking over and seeing all my family there — it’s mad, so she’s buzzing.”

With the adrenaline in his body still running during those minutes and hours that followed the final whistle of Ireland’s 3-1 win last night, Byrne took off his number 12 jersey and got it signed by all of his international team-mates before heading home.

“It’s going to go up in the gaff somewhere,” he laughs.

“I just turned my phone off and tried to take it all in. I didn’t want to be listening to interviews with people talking, the same people who have written me off loads of times might have been saying I had a good game last night so I wasn’t really too bothered.

“I was getting text messages off numbers I don’t even have saved anymore. I didn’t entertain it I just wanted to live in the moment and enjoy it with the people who helped me get there.”

His incredible form for Shamrock Rovers since coming back to Ireland paved the way for this month’s call-up. While he admits he probably is playing the best football of his career so far, Byrne says consistent visibility of his performances has been vital.

“I wasn’t playing any football in England and Scotland a lot of the time. Look, I just think I’m in the public eye now. The media are going to the games a lot, if I score a goal it’s on Eir Sport.

“Obviously last night is off the back of what I’ve done in the League of Ireland. It’s probably the best I’ve played and, yeah, probably the most confident I’ve been on a pitch so long may it continue.”

Does he mind being in the public eye so much lately? “I’ve been in the public eye since I was 14 going over to Manchester City,” Byrne chuckles. “It doesn’t bother me. I like when people are talking about me.

“I’d be worried if they weren’t talking about me. I enjoy it, but I don’t read to much into it. I know the same people who are talking good stuff will be slating me if I have a bad game.”

A dream come true for a player who has had to fight tooth and nail to get here. Last night was certainly a moment to savour for Byrne, but his performance on the pitch against Bulgaria indicates that, all going according to plan, it won’t be the last time we see him in an Irish shirt.

Jack Byrne was at the Sport Ireland Campus today to help launch a new season of action on the eir sport pack. eir sport viewers can watch every game in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League plus UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers on Virgin Media Sport, which is now part of the eir sport pack, as well as live FA Cup games, SSE Airtricity League games & the Republic of Ireland’s U21 Home Qualifiers.

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About the author:

Aaron Gallagher

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