Brilliant Byrne rewarded for top form at Rovers

by Dave Donnelly

Former St Kevin’s Boys man Jack Byrne has received a surprise callup for Ireland’s opening Euro 2020 qualifiers against Gibraltar and Georgia this week.

Mick McCarthy’s first game in charge of the national team for 17 years will see the Boys in Green travel to Gibraltar for the first time on Saturday before hosting Georgia three days later.

Former Manchester City underage star Jack Byrne wasn’t included in McCarthy’s 38-man provisional squad, nor in the cut-sized 23-man squad, but was drafted following an injury to Callum O’Dowda.

The Bristol City man has been in blistering form in the Cherries’ promotion push but has been ruled out with a knee injury. Uncapped 22-year-old Byrne, who previously linked up with the senior team in a training squad under Martin O’Neill ahead of Euro 2016, has been called up in his stead.

Byrne has endured a tough spell at club level with unhappy spells at Oldham Athletic and Kilmarnock, but he’s back enjoying his football under Hoops boss Stephen Bradley. McCarthy was in Tallaght Stadium, along with assistants Terry Connor and Robbie Keane, and witnessed a man-of-the-match performance from the former St Kevin’s Boys talent.

That culminated in a stunning strike from Byrne, his first for the club, to cap off a 3-0 victory over Sligo Rovers, and the performance was enough to convince McCarthy he had the right qualities.

McCarthy neglected to call up any League of Ireland players during his previous seven-year stint from 1996 to 2003, but he says things have changed considerably in the interim.

“Before was 17 years ago and it was pretty much semi-pro and not full time as they are now,” McCarthy said. “I just go to the games and look at the players and [Byrne] was outstanding the other night.

“I think he’ll have a harder time in terms of opposition, but even in training this morning, you can see he is more than capable of mixing it with the lads there.”

“I guess if I’d have seen him the last time, and he’d have played like that, I’d have had confidence in him then, but I didn’t see anybody like that.

“So I guess that is the benefit of going to watch the games.

“He had an excellent performance on Friday night.”

Byrne’s boss at club level, Bradley, was similarly measured in his assessment of the midfielder, who has taken a few knocks along the way since emerging in the City underage sides.

“The pleasing thing for me is that Jack looks really happy in his game and in himself,” said the Jobstown native.

“He is getting fitter and stronger. Gearóid Morrissey scored an unbelievable goal last week but that is every bit as good.

“The two of those goals are contenders for goal of the season. He is working hard and his quality is coming through.”

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