New Era Jack Byrne believes success in the modern game may look a little different for Irish hopefuls
Rovers ace Byrne says Irish stars can still make it at English clubs
THE football journey taken by Jack Byrne is a very modern Irish adventure.
While the days of Liverpool and Manchester United making dreams come true and dropping a young Irish kid into their first team may have gone, Byrne's story suggests success in the game can be measured a little differently now.
Such is the wealth at the top of English football that risks no longer need to be taken on young hopefuls who might not have what it takes to make it in the Premier League.
Instead, proven performers can be signed for tens of millions in a heartbeat, leaving a starry-eyed hopeful who had been climbing the ladder to the top squeezed back down the pecking order at his club.
Ireland midfielder Byrne gives an insight into this world better than most, as he made his way through the Manchester City academy before plotting a career that has taken on spells with clubs in the lower leagues of English football, in Scotland with Kilmarnock and most recently with Cypriot side APOEL.
Here, in an exclusive interview with the Sunday World as part of the EA SPORTS FIFA Team of the Year campaign, Byrne suggests the bar of ambition has been reset by Irish youngsters heading to England.
That elusive Premier League dream is still just about alive, yet a lengthy career in the game is more realistic to achieve when the target is a little less inflated.
"It's tougher than ever to break through at big English clubs, but that should not be the only target for Irish kids these days," begins Byrne, who has returned to Shamrock Rovers for this year's League of Ireland campaign.
"I loved my time at Man City and I was training with some of the best players in the world every day, but it is tough to take that next step when players are being signed for big money to go straight into the first team.
"I remember when we played against Schalke under-19s and Brandon Barker was knocking on the door of the Man City first team, with everyone saying he was on his way to the top.
"Leroy Sane played in that game for Schalke and did really well, so Man City went out and bought him for nearly £50 million.
"Straight away, he jumped ahead of Brandon for a place in the first team and that's what happens at a club like that.
"You are always going to get exceptional players like Cole Palmer and Phil Foden who break through, but you need to be at that level now and they are special talents.
"So we need to have a different view of success and if you are in an academy at a top Premier League club, there is a good chance you can have a great career in football, even if it is not in their first team."
It's easy to pine for the days when the English elite clubs had Irish representation, but that era ended a decade ago.
Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Roy Keane, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane were elite Premier League performers before the influx of expensive foreign talent both on the pitch and in managerial positions changed the ethos of the English game forever.
Since they made their exits, Irish names on Premier League team sheets have become as rare as a cold pint served after 8pm.
This evolution has been a hammer blow to Ireland's hopes on the international stage, yet Byrne suggests some English clubs are missing a trick by overlooking Irish talent.
"There are definitely players across the League of Ireland that are good enough to play in England," he continues.
"It all depends on whether managers in England know the Irish league, follow the players over here and whether they are willing to bring people over.
"James Brown has got a move from Drogheda to Blackburn and that shows there are doors open to English club and he is well capable of thriving over there.
"From my perspective, a lot of the League of Ireland teams would give English teams a good game because the standards in Ireland have improved.
"Comparing levels between England and Ireland is tough, but my Shamrock Rovers team from 2019 would have beaten the Oldham team I played for a few years back.
"I loved my time at Oldham and we played against some big clubs like Blackburn, but the standard here is really good. Everything we do at Rovers is very professional and the standard in our club is at a really high level.
"I look at Eoin Doyle, who has had such a great career in England and now he is coming back to Ireland to play for St Pat's.
"He has shown that you can carve out a great career in England, even if it's not in the Premier League.
"It's all about trying to be the best you can be and carving out a career that works for you."
Troy Parrott, Adam Idah, Aaron Connolly and Jayson Molumby are among the Irish youngsters who have seen their fledgling careers hit roadblocks over the last couple of years. Yet Byrne suggests time is needed to understand what is required to thrive in the English game.
"I wouldn't be worrying too much about the lads who did so well in Stephen Kenny's under-21 team a couple of years back," he added.
"Someone like Troy Parrott has already played ten games for Ireland as a teenager and he has had some great moments, so I wouldn't be too worried that they are taking their time to find their feet. That's a natural progression.
"All kids need a good manager who can give them a chance when they are ready and then given them the confidence to believe they can succeed when they are in the first team.
"There is a big difference from playing in an academy team and then playing in the Premier League or the Championship in England and some of our lads have found that out in the last couple of years, but they still have time on their side and I'm sure they will come through."
This may not be a golden era for Irish soccer talent, but an alternative vintage of glory is still there for the taking for those willing to reach out and snatch it.
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