HAVING seen his first season at Everton decimated by injury, Kill’s Sam Byrne is itching for the new season to begin so that he can make his mark at Goodison Park.
Byrne, who started his football with Naas AFC, has long been recognised as one of Ireland’s most promising young players and after moving from Naas to Dublin club St Josephs Boys, signed for Manchester Utd in 2011.
Things didn’t work out for Byrne at Old Trafford but when he was released at the end of the 2013/14 season, Everton moved quickly to secure the services of a player that they knew well.
“Everton were interested when I was 15 before I went to United so I presume they just kept an eye on me,” he said.
“I had been over on trial a couple of times to Everton when I was younger so when they wanted me to sign, I knew what they were about and what the club was like,” added Byrne, who turns 20 this week.
Settling in at any new club can be difficult but Byrne immediately felt right at home in his new surroundings.
“It is such a homely club. It’s just a different club to United, United are obviously a massive club, Everton are a massive club too but maybe not as worldwide as United, but you can see what the club means to the fans.”
“It was easy for me to settle in, it feels like I have been here for a lot longer than a year now. All the lads have been great so it was easy to mix in with them,” said Byrne.
Hoping to make an impact at his new club, the last thing Byrne needed was a bad injury but unfortunately his season was almost ended last October when he picked up a serious knee injury during training.
“It happens to a lot of people and it was just one of those things that I had to get on with. I got through it, I came out the other side and I feel good about it now,” he said.
Such a serious injury could have broken the spirit of a lesser man but Byrne put his head down, worked hard and was back on the pitch by April. He even managed to score his first goal for his new club in a 3-1 win over Tottenham Hotspurs in the final game of the season.
That was just the boost he needed heading into pre-season.
“It was good to get back into the team before the end of the season, I got back into the team for the last couple of games and got a goal in the last game so it was good to finish on a high,” he said.
Byrne was back in Ireland last week as the Everton under 21s played a couple of friendlies as part of their preparations for the new season. Last Wednesday, Byrne started as Everton beat Bohemians 2-1 in Dalymount Park, and they followed that up with a 3-1 win against Glenavon last Saturday.
In between those two games Byrne, along with team mates Gethin Jones and Kieran Dowell, under 21 manager David Unsworth and Everton club legend Joe Royle, had a Q&A session at an event organised by the club’s Irish supporters club, The Irish Toffees.
It gave Byrne a chance to see the enthusiasm of the Everton supporters and made him all the more keen to make his breakthrough this season.
“We only had three weeks off so it was a short summer. It was good to get a rest and get a little holiday in but I came back fitting fit and ready to go again. I’m into the last year on my contract so hopefully I can kick on now and get myself a new one. Maybe I’ll go out on loan but I’ll have to speak to the club about that,” he said.
Goodison Park and the training centre at Finch Farm seem a good fit for Byrne at the moment, the large Irish contingent in the first team offer support while the club’s history of developing young players offers hope of making the all important breakthrough to first team football.
“All the Irish lads are great to have there but everybody speaks to you and gives you tips. It’s nice to have the Irish lads there to help out,” said Byrne .
“We play the right type of football, David (Unsworth) is a good manager. We play the right way, it’s the right football, I feel good and this is where I want to be. It suits my type of game, it’s a good style of play and it suits me. We’ve seen the lads go away with the first team, I’m just hoping that will be me at some stage, it’s a good inspiration for us.”
As well as looking to have a good season with his club, Byrne is also looking to make up for lost time at international level. He was voted as the FAI’s under 19 international player of the year for 2014 and has a very impressive scoring record in a green jersey at underage level. With Robbie Keane now in the twilight of his career, Byrne is well aware that there may be opportunities further down the line with striking options in short supply for the senior team.
“I missed a lot last year with the injury but hopefully I can get back into the team and get playing again, get a few games with them under my belt and score goals. They (the senior team) are struggling a bit for strikers so hopefully they will take me on and see what I can do. I think there is a game in September for the under 21s so hopefully I can be involved then,” he said.
Now back to his full fitness, Byrne has the talent to become a star for club and country, he has a big season ahead of him.
By Ger McNally