Tuesday night at the Aviva Stadium still hasn’t quite sunk in for Shamrock Rovers midfielder and now Irish international midfielder Jack Byrne.
Included in the squad for Ireland’s friendly against Bulgaria, Byrne won his first cap for the Boys in Green coming off the bench in the 65th minute and making a big impression.
The 23-year-old whipped the corner in for Kevin Long’s towering header to give Ireland the lead and clipped a beautiful ball out to Enda Stevens on the left who found James Collins in the area for their third goal.
Byrne spoke about the surreal nature of winning his first Irish cap immediately after the game. But having had time to sleep on and digest his achieved, how is he feeling on the morning after the night before?
“It’s a hard one to describe,” said Byrne.
“I’ve never had a feeling like that going out on the football pitch. Nervous excitement. I wanted to do well and get on the ball and impress my family, impress everybody else.
“To just step on the pitch was a bonus. It’s a blur when you get on the pitch. You’re not looking at the stadium or taking it all in, only when you score a goal you hear the crowd cheering, you think ‘Jesus Christ I’m actually in this situation.'”
The game on Tuesday night was far from engaging for much of the first 45 minutes as both sides struggled to really gain a foothold and fashion any clear-cut chances.
Alan Browne’s goal in the 56th minute brought some life back into the game. However, it was the introduction of Byrne which really injected energy into the Irish fans as they greeted his arrival with a roar.
The Rovers midfielder explained that when it was happening he was so focused he couldn’t really hear the crowd but watching the reception he received when he got home made the hairs on his neck stand up.
“It’s a hard one because when you’re in the moment you don’t really pay attention to it, it’s only when my brother sent me a video of me coming onto the pitch I heard it.
“It didn’t sound like that when I was coming on! I was just looking at the ball trying to get a touch but when I watched it back the hair on the back of my neck stood up, and I was thinking, ‘wow that actually happened.'”
Byrne’s friends and family were in attendance at the game and he explained that the support of those closest to him, in particular, his mother Jackie, was a huge boost for him – even in the tougher times of his career.
“There were loads of tears. She was just really happy for me. All my family were there and people who have supported me through tough times as well. It hasn’t always been like this, it’s well documented. I can’t thank them enough because it means a lot to me.
“Standing in the middle of the pitch hearing these roars and looking over and seeing all my family there it’s mad so she’s buzzing.”
Understandably, Byrne found himself as the centre of attention following his impressive debut, doing the rounds with media after the win and being discussed heavily by those covering the game.
Byrne also received a plethora of texts, messages and calls in the when he returned home from the Aviva but outlined he turned his phone off and tried to enjoy the moment with his loved ones.
“I just turned my phone off and tried to take it all in. I didn’t want to be listening to interviews with people talking, the same people who have written me off loads of times might have been saying I had a good game last night so I wasn’t really too bothered.
“I was getting text messages off numbers I don’t even have saved anymore. I didn’t entertain it I just wanted to live in the moment and enjoy it with the people who helped me get there.”
Attention is expected given that Byrne is now a member of the Irish squad, and the only player from the League of Ireland involved with McCarthy’s side.
The former Manchester City prospect though, is well used to being in the public eye and the hype that surrounds a performance like his on Tuesday night.
“I like when people are talking about me,” he jokes. “I’d be worried if they weren’t talking about me.
“I’ve been in the public eye since I was 14 going over to Manchester City. It doesn’t bother me.
“I enjoy it, but I don’t read too much into it. I know the same people who are talking good stuff will be slating me if I have a bad game.”
Wes Brown, Emile Heskey, Jack Byrne and Shane Supple were at the Sport Ireland Campus today to help launch a new season of action on the eir sport pack. eir Sport viewers can watch every game in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League plus UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers on Virgin Media Sport, which is now part of the eir sport pack, as well as live FA Cup games, SSE Airtricity League games & the Republic of Ireland’s U21 Home Qualifiers.