One name in Mick McCarthy’s 25 man squad for the upcoming international break who many Irish football fans will be keen to watch very closely, is Jack Byrne.
Byrne is uniquely the only member of the squad who plies his trade in the Republic of Ireland at club level. As a result, many eyes will be closely watching the Shamrock Rovers midfielder, should he make his senior international debut in one of Ireland’s two upcoming fixtures.
Byrne will be a familiar name to regular followers of the SSE Airtricity League, and long time followers of Irish youth football. In 2012, at the age of 15, Byrne stepped well out of his comfort zone as he left his home country, and the Dublin based club he had played with since the age of 5, behind him and pursued his footballing ambitions abroad as the academy of Manchester City opened up a place for him. Byrne went on to spend 5 years at Manchester City. During this time, devoted followers of Irish youth football made sure to keep tabs on the development of the talented youngster.
Byrne was touted as the next great hope for Irish football during this time, as Irish footballing media outlets regularly reported on the latest achievements and impressive performances displayed by the youngster making waves in the academy of one of England’s top clubs. The teenaged Jack Byrne displayed as much ability and potential as any Irish youth product of recent times. During his time as a part of Manchester City’s ‘Elite Development Squad’, Byrne earned comparisons to childhood hero Paul Scholes from Irish legend Niall Quinn.
Byrne was a key member of Manchester City’s Elite Development Squad, a youth squad which featured a host of promising youth players such as Angelino, the full back who recently rejoined Manchester City following a successful spell at Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven. Byrne himself, is no stranger to Dutch football, enjoying a successful loan spell at SC Cambuur just 4 seasons ago. This impressive loan spell culminated in Byrne earning the opportunity to train with the Republic of Ireland senior squad.
His most impressive performances during his time at Manchester City came when he starred in midfield during Manchester City’s impressive run in the 2014/15 UEFA Youth League. The youngster contributed 6 goals from midfield from 8 games in the prestigious youth tournament. Elite Development Squad manager Patrick Vieira was full of praise for the Irish youngster, saying “He doesn’t get scared at all.” Vieira would go on to say of Byrne “If he keeps working hard, the chance will come for him to challenge himself at a different level.”
The Fall From Grace
It is safe to assume that the French World Cup winner was talking about Byrne receiving opportunities with the Manchester City first team, when he spoke about him challenging himself at a ‘different level’. However, Byrne’s displays in the UEFA Youth League would ultimately be the peak of his time at Manchester City. After an unsuccessful loan spell with Blackburn Rovers, Byrne experienced the harsh realities of a life in football away from the glamour of the top flight. Byrne took the opportunity to prove himself at Wigan Athletic as he joined them on a permanent deal in 2017. After a season with Wigan, he completed his fall from grace as he joined a relegation bound Oldham Athletic in 2018, then finding himself at the bottom step of the Football League ladder.
Byrne’s time in Britain will have taught him that talent is only a small piece of the pie when trying to make it in professional football. Byrne, maybe somewhat naively, took the chance to, once again in his life, leave behind the comfort zone in which he found himself at Manchester City after 5 years at the club, and his story of quickly fading away from the limelight is the one which is the harsh reality for most footballers. In a world where the success story of Jadon Sancho, who took a similar risk to Jack Byrne in leaving the comfort of Manchester City’s youth academy himself, is frequently echoed by media, it is important to remember that for every Jadon Sancho, there are many more Jack Byrnes.
Many young footballers experience this fall from grace when they reach the end of their time in top youth academies. Many factors can play a role in this becoming an unfortunate reality for even the most talented of prospects. As we have seen with the unfortunate events at Bolton Wanderers and Bury FC lately, many clubs in the Football League are running in turbulent circumstances. Becoming involved in unstable clubs, such as Oldham Athletic where Byrne found himself a year ago, can hinder the progress of any young footballer.
Footballers can also be guilty of self sabotage at times. Former Oldham manager Frankie Bunn stated ‘disciplinary reasons’ as the cause for the termination of Byrne’s Oldham contract. Bunn wouldn’t be the only manager to have had issues with Byrne in the past, as former Ireland U19 manager Paul Doolin recently stated on the ‘LOI Weekly’ Podcast, that he also had problems with Byrne’s discipline, which lead to the coach dropping the promising youngster from the Irish youth team.
Whatever the combination of issues were that have lead to Byrne’s specific fall from grace, it is clear that the now 23 year old midfielder is motivated to re-establish himself in the footballing world. Following a short stint with Scottish club Kilmarnock, Byrne returned to his home country of Ireland, playing for Shamrock Rovers for the current season. Head coach Stephen Bradley has spoke in glowing terms about the personality of Jack Byrne, stating that the playmaker has come to Shamrock Rovers despite having “a number of offers” from English clubs which offered greater financial reward for the services of Byrne.
Byrne has made another risky life choice by returning to play club football in the Republic of Ireland. Despite the obvious lower levels of competition in Ireland as opposed to the UK, Byrne has taken the offer of regular game time with Shamrock Rovers as an opportunity to prove how good he is, and repair his reputation.
So far, Byrne’s latest risk has been paying off. Apart from earning himself a place in the latest Republic of Ireland squad, Irish manager Mick McCarthy has spoken highly of Byrne’s season in the Airtricity League, stating that he is “in the form of his life” at the moment. McCarthy is not alone in his appraisal of Byrne, as the man at the heart of the Shamrock Rovers midfield won himself the Airtricity League’s player of the month award for July, as he contributed an impressive 7 assists and 2 goals over a successful month of football, which August’s Ireland call-up will only add to.
Byrne’s story has quickly gone from the sad story of a fall from grace for a once promising Irish youngster, to a story of redemption. Byrne has quickly become the most impressive player in the Airtricity League. He has played all over the midfield for Shamrock Rovers, providing a creative threat both from deep, and from the advanced ‘10’ position. Taking the opportunity of regular game time at home may have been the best decision the 23 year old talent has ever made, as Byrne once again looks like a promising talent that could reach great heights.
It will undoubtedly be a proud moment for Byrne to join up with the upcoming Ireland squad, and it will be made even better if he has the opportunity to see some time on the pitch next week. Irish football fans will be hoping that Byrne can carry on his redemption story and continue to go from strength to strength, as a player of the quality that he is capable of reaching, is one of great value to the Irish national team.