By dave donnelly
JACK Byrne has wasted no time in adjusting to the tropical surroundings of Nicosia following his January switch from Shamrock Rovers to APOEL.
The Ballybough man turned down opportunities to have another crack at football in England to join Cyprus’ most famous team – though things haven’t quite gone to plan.
24-year-old Byrne saw the man who brought him there – Mick McCarthy – sacked within days of his arrival and has been plagued by injury since.
News that a back operation will keep him out of the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers with Serbia and Luxembourg – and the remainder of the domestic season – has come as a blow.
The former Manchester City trainee’s stock was sky-high as he secured a second PFAI player of the year in gong in as many years in 2020 and impressed in the Europa League against AC Milan.
He joined a struggling APOEL side, whose only hope of European football is to win the Cypriot Cup, and twice limped off at half-time under the new manager before opting for surgery on a disc issue. Nevertheless, Byrne – who enjoyed a fruitful spell in the Netherlands with SC Cambuur as a teenager – is loving his new life in more exotic climes than Rovers’ Roadstone base in Kingswood.
“I’m really enjoying it, waking up in the morning and putting on shorts and t-shirt rather than a big jacket and a hat,” Byrne laughs on a call to promote the SPAR FAI School Zone learning platform.
“I was in talks with the club for a while, before I came out here. It didn’t just happen in one day. I’d been speaking to the club and the president here and I got really good vibes off them.
“It wasn’t just Mick. Mick was obviously a factor, a big factor in me coming here as he was the man who gave me my international debut.
“It wasn’t a big issue when Mick was sacked because I knew the conversations I had with the club before I came out.
“The length of the contract – which is two-and-a-half years – showed faith that the club wanted me here.”
Despite APOEL’s difficulties – the Cypriot league splits into championship and relegation rounds after two lots of fixtures and they missed the cut – the style of play suits Byrne.
APOEL’s success has been built on a spine of Spanish, Brazilian and other South American players, and Byrne feels those surroundings can only improve his creative game.
“I definitely think the European style suits me. Most people understand that, people who have seen me play will probably say, ‘He suits Europe more than he suits England.’
“I think the style suits me, and I don’t regret it. I love it out here, it’s all going really well. The level of expectation here is massive, and it’s nice to be involved in that.
“This was the biggest chance that came up and the one that stood out to me: where I could grow as a person and learn.
“I am going to play with players who I’d never get the chance to play with, a lot of Spanish and Portuguese players, Greek players. We have four Brazilians in the squad.
“You are playing a different style of football. I do want to coach one day and I see how other teams in other countries do things and the way they approach it.”
** Jack Byrne was speaking to promote the Spar FAI School Zone. For more details and registration, visit: https://www.fai.ie/domestic/spar-fai-school-zone/register/