'I found it hard to accept and sometimes I let my emotions get the better of me'
Jack Byrne believed this season would be the year when he'd do all the things people think he can’t do.
Byrne knows his strengths are getting on the ball and making things happen. During a loan spell in Holland with SC Cambuur, these gifts made him popular with supporters who saw a player who always thought positively.
This season’s loan at Blackburn Rovers would be different. He would be battling in arguably the most competitive league in England, the Championship, and he would be exposed to the realities of life as a midfielder in the country.
Byrne is confident in his strengths, but he knows he has to work on his weaknesses. He thinks he’ll get that chance at Wigan Athletic under Warren Joyce, who was involved in developing the careers of many young players during his time as a coach at Manchester United.
But things didn’t turn out as they should have at Blackburn. Byrne’s opportunities were limited. He started three games for the club, the last in August, and the move, which was seen by an ambitious player as an important step in his development, turned into something else.
“It was a frustration,” he says. He was eager to test himself, to fight and battle in the Championship, but he never got the chance to demonstrate his appetite for the uglier side of football.
“I’ve still worked on those things, I just haven’t done it in matches. I feel stronger for the experience. It’s just one of those things that happen. Most players go through something like that in their career and hopefully I’ve had my disappointing spell and I can come out the other side and kick on.”
After Christmas, Blackburn announced that Byrne would be returning to Manchester City and, on the last day of the transfer window, he signed permanently for Wigan Athletic.
It's one of those things, he says, but he doesn't hide his frustration that he was never called upon even as Blackburn struggled.
"It’s been really frustrating because I’m a footballer and every footballer wants to play. I still enjoyed my time at Blackburn, they’ve got a great group of lads and I wish the manager all the best. I obviously felt I could have affected it but he just chose to play a certain way and he didn’t see me fitting into it which was really frustrating because of the results they were getting."
Byrne has always been a fighter. He lost his father at a young age and he has always had a resolve. He has also always been confident in his ability and clearly it confused him that he didn't get the opportunities in a struggling Blackburn side.
"I found it hard to accept sometimes and sometimes I let my emotions get the better of me. But that’s football, we all want to play. That was the idea of a loan spell - to go out and get games and it just didn’t work like that for whatever reason. It is difficult because I did want to help them get out of the position they were in, but I just wasn’t getting the opportunity to do that. For whatever reason, the manager decided to play a different way and he didn’t see me fitting in to that. I take it on the chin, I’m a big man and I move forward. Hopefully I’ll learn from it and it will stand me in good stead."
He hasn’t played much so Wigan's game on Friday against Sheffield Wednesday might come too soon for him. Byrne knows he needs to get his head down and train, but he didn’t think twice about making a permanent move, especially when the alternative was another few months not playing.
He is grateful for all he learned at Manchester City. He knows some say a player is better off going to a smaller club, but he thinks the experience he had was an important education.
"We’ve had players in the academy that I’ve trained with that we’ve probably bought for £3 million at 16 years of age, so it’s brilliant to get that experience when I was young and train with the best players who were available. Patrick Vieira was my coach and you can’t ask for much more than that, but I felt to further on my career as a professional, this was the next step."
City was a centre of excellence, he says, a chance to improve and learn every day.
"You want to test yourself against the best. If you get an opportunity to train in top quality facilities, with top quality coaches and top quality players as well - because it’s not only the team you’re playing against, it’s the players you’re playing against in training every day. When people say go to a smaller club, yeah maybe you might play for the first team a little bit quicker, but the footballing experience alone, even the chance to go to Holland on loan, wouldn’t have materialised if it wasn’t for Man City."
The loan move to Leeuwarden to play for SC Cambuur was a significant decision for him.
"It was massive for me, not only football-wise but as a person. You learn how to grow as well and you’re not relying on people, you’re on your own."
Byrne could easily have stayed at City instead of going to Holland, but he knew the loan would benefit him in the long-term. While he was there, he became a favourite with the supporters who appreciated his desire to make things happen.
'Jack Byrne could be like Wesley Sneijder' – SC Cambuur supporters' club chairman speaks to SportsJOE https://t.co/66KC67qK8Y
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) March 30, 2016
But this time, he knew he had to make a permanent change.
“I felt as if it was the right point. I didn’t want to spend the next six months training every day with Manchester City and not getting the games that I needed. I felt I was past Under-23 football and I didn’t play a lot towards the back end at Blackburn, so another loan move wasn’t the right option. It was more the permanent option and the chance to work with Warren Joyce."
At Wigan, he intends to develop as he wanted to develop at Blackburn.
"I also need to improve my game and be able to do the other side of the game a little bit better. I want to show people my strengths more than my weaknesses and obviously my strengths are getting on the ball and creating, not really the other side of the game which is defending. I’m more of an attacking midfielder. I do need to add those things to my game, but working with someone like Warren Joyce I can do those things."
If he does well, people will talk about Ireland again. His confidence has sometimes been mistaken for brashness, but right now he knows playing is the most important thing.
"Everybody wants to play for their country, but I’m still only 20. I’ve still got another campaign with the U-21s ahead of me. Noel King has been really good to me, that's where my focus is. It’s going to take me a couple of weeks to get up to speed and I'm just concentrating on Wigan. Hopefully if I do well here, who knows where that will lead me."
Jack Byrne has experienced frustration this season, but he is the type of player who won't let that experience go to waste.