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EXCLUSIVE 'It can be a shock to the system' - Jack Byrne admits Premier League mountain is tough to climb

Another chapter is about to be written in the story of the Shamrock Rovers sensation, but where to next? He needs to choose carefully

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Jack Byrne has just been named the PFAI’s Player of the Year for the second year running. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Jack Byrne has just been named the PFAI’s Player of the Year for the second year running. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Jack Byrne has just been named the PFAI’s Player of the Year for the second year running. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

As Jack Byrne looked around a talent-laden dressing room at Manchester City, the scale of the task he had taken on hit home.

Here was a teenager who had been told for as long as he could remember that he was a star in the making, yet the levels of excellence required to succeed on the biggest stage of them all offered up a daunting reality.

While Byrne never doubted he had the ability to make his mark in the game after cutting his teeth with his local club St Kevin's Boys in Dublin, the heights this diminutive playmaker needed to reach could not be scaled.

Loan spells away from City failed to reap rewards, so Byrne returned to Dublin to build fresh foundations for his career in what would be a highly successful two-year stint at Shamrock Rovers.

After being named as PFAI Player of the Year for a second successive year last Wednesday, the reboot Jack's career needed when he came home has been duly delivered. Now he needs to decide what follows.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday World, Byrne, who played in all bar one of Shamrock Rovers' 24 games in all competitions this year, looks back over his first attempt to hit the big-time in England and reflects on a story that taught him plenty of lessons that he will take with him when he secures his next big move.

Shock

"It can be a shock to the system when you have grown up being the best player in all the teams you are in and, suddenly, that is not the case," begins Byrne, speaking to the Sunday World at an event to promote the Coca-Cola HBC Youth Empowered programme.

"When I went to Man City, there was a lot of talk about me being one of the best players in the country, but you are going in with the best players in the world at a club like that.

"I have been fortunate to train with some amazing players during my time at Manchester City, and I relished the challenge there.

"It would have been easy to stay at home and have an easy ride, but that is not what I wanted, and I have no regrets from my time at City.

"Sometimes playing with a better calibre of player can bring out the best in you and make you kick on. Being out of your comfort zone is a good thing at times, and it's something I enjoy.

"You want to test yourself against the best. Whether that is in England or another league around Europe, it is nice to come up against someone who might have the better of you.

"Working out how to impose your game on them is a challenge. I'm not Lionel Messi, I'm Jack Byrne and I like to do as well as I can.

"Wherever that takes me, so be it. Whether I play in England again, in Belgium, a different European league, maybe the MLS in America... who knows where. I need to make the right choices for my own career."

Byrne's failure to make a breakthrough at Manchester City and in subsequent spells with Wigan, Oldham and Kilmarnock could have broken a young man who returned home to start all over again when he signed for Rovers two years ago.

After cementing his reputation as the best player in the League of Ireland over the last couple of years, decision time looms again for Byrne as he ponders a move away from Shamrock Rovers.

"I'm loving playing for Shamrock Rovers at the moment and I want to get the best out of myself, wherever my ability fits best," he continues.

"If that's the Premier League in England, then so be it. What will be will be. I want to go as far as I can, and I need to decide what to do from this point.

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Byrne at the Coca-Cola HBC Youth Empowered programme

Byrne at the Coca-Cola HBC Youth Empowered programme

Byrne at the Coca-Cola HBC Youth Empowered programme

"My career hasn't been plain sailing. Maybe that will help me now. I had a great time at Man City, but I had to deal with people saying I wasn't ready to play at that level and, maybe, I wasn't physically capable of doing it in England.

"You have to build up a resilience to that kind of criticism and believe you can do it. I've always had self-belief and I needed that when I came back home to play for Shamrock Rovers.

"Now I have played for Ireland, doors have opened for me over the last couple of years, and I want to achieve more and more."

Sparkling

The few weeks that lie ahead could define Byrne's career, yet he insists he is in no rush to decide his next move, with an offer to play under Mick McCarthy in his new role as manager at Cypriot side APOEL Nicosia one of many likely to come his way.

A second trip to foreign shores beckons and this time, Byrne will move with a different mindset, as his sparkling performances with Rovers cemented the view that he should still be reaching for the stars.

His promotion to the senior Republic of Ireland squad last year was greeted with delight by large portions of the home-based soccer media and supporters, but he accepts that affection will evaporate unless he realises his ambitions on the field.

"When you see someone like Liam Brady saying nice things about me, and saying I deserve a chance in the national team, it is nice," added Byrne.

"In the end, it doesn't really matter if the media write nice things about me because I need to perform on the pitch, or it won't count for anyone.

"I'm in the League of Ireland and they see me every week, so that might be part of the reason why I get so much support, but I'm sure they would be writing something different if I have a few bad games.

"It's up to me to play well, to get into the Ireland squad and do well when I get there.

"It doesn't matter if some of the media or the fans think I should be playing because it will be Stephen (Kenny) and his assistants Keith (Andrews) and Damien (Duff) who will decide whether I have a role to play or not. That's who I have to impress."

Chapter two of the Jack Byrne story has made for compelling viewing - and now we wait to see what comes next.

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