Byrne fires up fine win over Bulgaria

by Dave Donnelly

Ballybough’s Jack Byrne played a starring role on his senior international debut, playing a part in two late goals as Ireland edged out Bulgaria 3-1 in a friendly at the Aviva Stadium.

The former St Kevin’s Boys youth was introduced on the hour mark for Alan Judge and quickly got into the thick of the action in the centre of the park.

It was the 23-year-old’s corner that led to Kevin Long putting the Boys in Green make in front, and his delicate chipped pass started the move for James Collins’ clincher late on.

Preston North End’s Alan Browne had put Ireland in front early in the second half before a penalty from Ivelin Popov levelled things up for the visitors, who had lost 4-0 to England on Saturday.

There was also a debut from the start for former Lucan United and Shamrock Rovers goalkeeper Mark Travers, while fellow Dubliners Judge, Enda Stevens and Jeff Hendrick also featured.

Ireland manager Mick McCarthy made ten personnel changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Switzerland in a crucial Euro 2020 qualifier on Thursday, while Conor Hourihane moved to left-back.

The new-look side, featuring debutants Travers and Josh Cullen, imposed themselves from the start and controlled the ball in midfield without creating much of note.

Once Ireland had taken the lead via Browne, they looked certain to kick on from there but a mistake from Cyrus Christie allowed Bozhidar Kraev in and he was fouled by John Egan, and Popov blasted home an emphatic penalty.

The introduction of Byrne swung the momentum, however, as he teed up Long before picking out Stevens to steer the ball to Collins for a spectacular third.

“I’m buzzing to just get on the pitch and obviously to affect the game is special. I can’t explain it,” Byrne said after the final whistle. It’s all a bit of a blur at the moment. I’m just buzzing. I’d no nerves, I just wanted to show people what I can do.

“If that’s good enough, it’s good enough, but if it’s not then no bother. I’ll dust myself off and go again and keep trying.

“I’m not going to be everyone’s cup of tea – I know that – but I’ll try my best to get on the ball and try and do what I can do because I’m not going to go around smashing people.”

Ireland Under-21s made it three wins from three with a comeback 3-1 win in Sweden, thanks to a brace from ex-Belvedere man Troy Parrott and one from former Lucan United defender Conor Masterson.

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