Shamrock Rovers midfielder Jack Byrne is doing his best to make a strong impression in his first ever call-up to the Irish senior set-up.
The 22-year old was drafted into Mick McCarthy’s 23-man squad over the weekend following an injury to Bristol City’s Callum O’Dowda, becoming the first ever domestic-based player to be selected by the new Irish boss.
Byrne impressed McCarthy during Shamrock Rovers’ victory over Sligo Rovers on Friday night, scoring an excellent goal from outside the area as the Hoops went on to pick up a tremendous three points.
“I didn’t know Mick was going to be there,” said Byrne speaking ahead of Wednesday’s session at FAI HQ.
“I’m probably happy that I didn’t know, you might start doing stuff that you wouldn’t normally do. It was a nice surprise when I got called up, I would’ve never thought I’d be getting a call-up. It’s been a mad couple of days.”
The former Manchester City man is also making an impression off the pitch. As he made his way into the press room he took the time to shake hands with every journalist he could, before sitting down to answer questions ahead of the game with Gibraltar on Saturday.
But how has the 22-year old found the step up to international level?
“The tempo in training is a lot higher obviously, everyone is trying to impress . The lads have been great I’ve played with Seani [Maguire] and I know a couple of the other lads it’s been great. “
Byrne also spoke of his happiness at receiving his first full call-up to the Irish side, something that must have felt a million miles away when he found himself released by Kilmarnock earlier in the season.
“It’s been a mad couple of days. I’m delighted to be here. I just wanted to do well and get back on track. I’m obviously delighted to be here.”
The talented midfielder now appears to have his career firmly back on track after leaving Manchester City and a couple of difficult spells at Wigan, Oldham and Kilmarnock.
He outlined that he is now feeling much better about his game and has the coaching staff at Shamrock Rovers to thank for his upturn in form.
“I just wanted to do well and get back on track. Without Stephen Bradley and Stephen McPhail and the rest of the coaching staff I wouldn’t be here.”
“I feel as if I’m getting better, I needed the games I needed a couple of them to get going, the last two games I’ve been getting to my level, before that I was quite tired but I’m looking forward to the next few games.”
Once heralded as a potential saviour of Irish football and lauded by Manchester City’s Patrick Vieira for his quality, what does he feel went wrong as his career went on a downward spiral?
“I left Man City and signed for Wigan, two or three weeks later the manager was gone. I can’t dwell on these things. It was big for me to leave Man City, I had two years left on my contract but I wanted to show that I was ready for men’s football.
“The gamble didn’t pay off at the time but you just have to reset and take one step back and two steps forward. I’m grateful that I’m back playing well again.”
With injuries to the likes of Callum O’Dowda and Alan Browne in the midfield area, Byrne may find himself winning his first competitive cap against either Gibraltar or Georgia, something that would certainly be a boost for the League of Ireland.
Being the first domestic player capped by McCarthy, Byrne feels that his inclusion is great for the younger players in the league who can now see a pathway to international football.
“I think it’s good for the younger players in the league. I’m still only 22 as well. It’s great for the likes of Trevor Clarke and Brandon Kavanagh who got called up to the 21s.
“They can see that there’s a pathway for international football as well. I think it can only be a good thing for the league.”