Brilliant Byrne the PFA player of 2018

by Dave Donnelly

Shamrock Rovers ace Jack Byrne has been named PFAI player of the year, voted by his fellow players, following an outstanding first year in the League of Ireland.

The Ballybough native joined the Hoops at the beginning of the season following an unsettled spell with Scottish side Kilmarnock and found a new lease of life under Stephen Bradley.

The 23-year-old Byrne was called up to the senior international squad by Mick McCarthy on the back of his domestic form and he made his debut in the September friendly with Bulgaria.

The playmaker set up a goal for Kevin Long and was heavily involved in James Collins’ goal on his senior debut after being introduced as a second-half substitute.

And he will likely be handed another chance to impress McCarthy in Thursday’s friendly with New Zealand ahead of the must-win Euro 2020 qualifier at home to Denmark.

Byrne was watched by McCarthy last Sunday when he played a starring role in Shamrock Rovers’ FAI Cup final win over Dundalk, the first time they’ve lifted the trophy in 32 years.

And he’s been included in the final squad ahead of the Aviva Stadium double-header and will have a chance to stake his claim once more against the All Whites.

Byrne paid tribute to Jobstown’s Bradley for restoring his love of playing the game following a tumultuous couple of years in the UK.

The former St Kevin’s Boys underage star seemed destined for big things when he was signed by Manchester City as a 16-year-old.

He played a starring role in City’s UEFA Youth League run in 2015, form that earned him an enticing loan move to struggling Dutch Eredivisie side SC Cambuur.

The problems began when he returned to City and, following a poor loan spell with Blackburn Rovers, he moved permanently to Wigan Athletic in 2017.

A good spell with Oldham Athletic came to an end when the club went through financial difficulties, but it was with Kilmarnock that he became disillusioned with the game.

It was a visit from Bradley, at the suggestion of his agent Graham Barrett, that saw Byrne presented with a new, and life-affirming challenge.

“He (Bradley) cares,” said Byrne recently.

“I can see that he actually cares about me. I wouldn’t want to let him down because I probably wouldn’t have signed me looking at the person I was and the player I was then.

“It would be a massive risk. For him to put that faith in me and tell me I’m going to play every week, and be one of their main men, it gave me that boost I needed.

“After pre-season, I could see the work I was doing was paying off.

“I started feeling a lot better in myself and it didn’t matter if I was playing for Barcelona or Shamrock Rovers.”

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