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Ryan Byrne/INPHO Shamrock Rovers' Jack Byrne (file pic).
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'You want him on the pitch every minute of every game but physically it took a lot out of him'
Stephen Bradley praised Jack Byrne’s impact after an illness led to reduced minutes against Sligo.

THERE WAS somewhat of a surprise on Friday night when Shamrock Rovers named their team to face Sligo, as Jack Byrne dropped to the bench.

The Ireland international has been a key player over two spells with the Hoops, winning back-to-back PFAI Players’ Player of the Year awards in 2019 and 2020.

The Dubliner had started all six of the reigning champions’ previous league matches and made a big impact after coming on at half-time amid a 2-2 draw last Friday.

Byrne was key to Rovers’ increasing dominance, dictating play and helping exert pressure on the Sligo goal that eventually told, as they came from two goals down to earn a draw.

Afterwards, Bradley explained the reasoning behind initially holding the 25-year-old playmaker in reserve.

“Jack has been struggling in the last week [with illness],” he told reporters. “It has been going around the camp. Alan [Mannus] had it the other day, Sean Gannon has had it and one or two of the younger boys have had it.

“Jack probably shouldn’t have played against Bohs or Dundalk. He has had an infection and you could see it took its toll.

“He wasn’t recovering right during the week. You want him on the pitch every minute of every game but physically it took a lot out of him like it did with Alan and a few others over the last week to 10 days. That is all it was.

“Hopefully, it clears up now. I didn’t really want to involve him tonight, to be honest with you. We brought him on at half-time and he was excellent but he is shattered in there.”

Another player who impressed was Andy Lyons. The 21-year-old was recruited from Bohemians in the off-season and was a regular threat at right wing-back.

It was Lyons’ bustling run into the area that earned a penalty after he was tripped by Adam McDonnell, a vital moment that paved the way for the Hoops’ late comeback.

The player looks to be settling in well to life at Tallaght, as he was named man of the match for his performance on Friday.

“It is probably the first time we have had Andy on his right side,” said Bradley. “I think he showed what he is going to bring to us in an attacking sense. He was excellent like they all were second half, he was very good.”

Less encouraging was the performance of Barry Cotter. The former Ipswich youngster’s sloppy pass led to Sligo’s second goal, and he was replaced at half-time after an evening to forget.

However, Bradley backed the 23-year-old to recover from this setback.

“It is part of his growing and his learning. It is not nice. You don’t want it to happen but that is life, that is football. We all make mistakes but it is just unfortunate that we got punished.

“He will grow from that and will learn from it and it will make him stronger over the season. I’m not going to crucify a player over a mistake. The way we play, mistakes can happen and it did [on Friday] unfortunately, but we couldn’t dig him out and get the win.”

Assessing the game overall, Bradley felt his side were unlucky not to earn all three points.

“We gave away a really poor goal but we should have been two or three up at that point. The chances we had, the headers we had, Dylan [Watts'] one. You find yourself 2-0 down at half-time and you are thinking: ‘How did that happen?’

“At half-time, we just said to the players: ‘We are in full control, we can win this game. Just be nice and calm and do what we do and trust it and we can win this game.’ And to be fair to them, in the second half, they were brilliant. We should have won the game. We’ve just been told we had 27 shots and if you have that in any game, you should win it.”

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Meanwhile, Sligo boss Liam Buckley was happy with a point despite his side going so close to a win.

“There are quite a few new lads that are still bedding in but that said, they’ve done great. They’re really good footballers and better to come, that’s for sure.

“There are not too many teams that come to Tallaght and get anything. They’re a decent outfit. Look at their bench tonight — they’re bringing on Jack Byrne. 

“We’ve got a lot of good players on our bench as well, don’t get me wrong, but some of them don’t have the experience that some of [the Shamrock Rovers] lads have.

“I’ll be straight — I’m absolutely delighted with a point because it keeps the momentum going from our point of view and it’s a lesson learned in the second half. We look back and reflect on that and see what we can do better, please God, the next time we play.

“Basically, we didn’t do enough. The lines were too deep. We weren’t constructive enough with our passing, our chances in the second half were few and far between — we probably had two shots on goal in the second half. We need to be braver on the ball and especially against Rovers, who break the lines quite well, if you defend deep you’re going to be in trouble.”

A new episode of The Front Row, in partnership with Guinness, is out now. After Ireland’s Triple Crown win, Murray Kinsella gives us the rundown on his team of the tournament. Ireland international Sene Naoupu also joins the panel to chat about her career and look ahead to the start of the Women’s Six Nations. Click here to subscribe or listen below:

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