He had a moment of doubt when he trotted out on the turf in Dublin 4 for his senior international debut, asking himself if he belonged there.
Within minutes, it was clear that Jack Byrne was no imposter. At the end of the game, and his 30-minute cameo, he had the cheers of the Dublin crowd and words of praise from his manager ringing in his ears.
“I think I proved to myself on Tuesday night as I didn’t know,” said Byrne, when asked about making that step up from being a prodigy who had travelled much but delivered little in the previous two years, before a move to Shamrock Rovers led to his revival.
“I am going out there for my first cap – never mind the manager who is a lot more experienced than me, I was going out there thinking ‘can I play at this level’ as I had never done it before.
“It’s only when you are out there, you get your first touch and your normal game takes over and you feel comfortable. Suddenly a goal goes in, the crowd cheer and you are taken back a bit, I am standing in the middle of the Aviva here, it’s crazy.
Doubts have plagued Byrne’s career since he started making waves in the DDSL before his move to Manchester City, a player spoken of in hushed tones at events like the Kennedy Cup.
But some of those who encountered him along the way were certain of his ability.
“He can definitely play in the Premier League, I’m telling you,” former Manchester United man Wes Brown said at a media event in Dublin yesterday, having been a team-mate of Byrne’s during the Irishman’s unhappy spell at Blackburn in 2016.
“I used to train with him every day and he is that sort of player – he is aware of everything. If anything, at Blackburn, some of the things he was doing, the other players weren’t on the same level,” says Brown.
“He was definitely a player that you’d think, if he uses his talent right he would be fantastic.”
Talent aside, Byrne also has a reputation for over-confidence and admits the man he is now, at 23, is different from Jack Byrne the teenager.
“He’s very confident, 100 per cent he was like that and sometimes that was his downfall,” Brown explains.
“But it was never in a nasty way, I think he knows the ability he’s got. But sometimes – and we were struggling at the time – the manager won’t put the little guy, the magician guy in.
“He’ll put in players who will work and tackle. Jack is not that player, he is a different sort of player who was probably suited to another team.”
Byrne appears to be very happy back home in Dublin. His agent, former Ireland international Graham Barrett, says the spark for Byrne’s move home, to Rovers, was a call from Byrne’s mother, when Jack was at a low ebb in Kilmarnock.
Byrne may have done enough against Bulgaria to earn a place in the squad when Ireland duty resumes next month, but the man from Ballybough says he hasn’t changed.
He says he didn’t look at his mobile phone after the game on Tuesday night. “I spoke to the people close to me I was able to speak to, the rest I didn’t entertain,” he says.
“It was the same, people texting me and I didn’t have their numbers: they’re not looking for tickets when we are playing Waterford at home.
“When your outside life is going well your football life is going well, and when your football life is going well your outside life is going well.
“It’s trying to find a happy medium. It’s easier said than done because you have nights like Tuesday and you’re up, and then you lose a game on Friday for Rovers and you’re back down there. It’s about staying in the middle and I haven’t been too good at that in the last couple of years so I’m working on that, trying to stay in the middle.”
- Jack Byrne and Wes Brown spoke at the launch of the Eir Sports Pack.