What do Alec Byrne, Simon Coveney TD and Michael McGrath TD all have in common? Well unless Alec leads a secret double-life as a high-profile politician, it’s probably the fact that all three have a much sought-after verified blue tick on Twitter. While this brings the odd jibe and bit of banter from his childhood friends, it epitomises what has been an incredible nine months for the young Carrigaline man, Alec Byrne.
In 2019 Alec managed to break into the Cork City FC senior team and towards the end of the year featured regularly in what was a difficult season for the team. Nevertheless, having been at the club since U17 level, it has proved to be an incredibly positive last couple of months for the 21-year-old. A couple of weeks after the League of Ireland football season had ended, the former Carrigaline United academy player sat down with The Carrigdhoun Newspaper to talk all things past, present and future.
“It’s been a brilliant couple of months”, Alec says, reflecting on his recent first team performances. “I suppose looking forward to next year now it’s all about setting personal goals for myself and playing as many games as I can and see where that takes me.” The midfield playmaker has really caught the eye of newly appointed City boss, Neale Fenn, and despite a series of disappointing results, Alec’s performances continued to improve under the guidance of the club’s former player. Towards the latter end of the season, the former Carrigaline Community School pupil suddenly found himself playing against some of the best players in the country and at times looked like a seasoned veteran in the middle of the park
The UCC student has however not had it all his own way this year. Although he received a huge boost at the beginning of the year when he was allocated the Number 16 jersey for the season, Alec spent a frustrating part of the pre-season on the sidelines with a knee injury. Going around UCC on crutches and struggling to then get a place in the starting XI wasn’t what the script entailed but this itself was a challenge that the Carrigaline man feels benefitted him, as it required mental toughness. “It was the kind of injury where the surgeon said I could play on it but it would be better if I got it done. Thankfully I got back at the end of the pre-season and I’ve had no problems since, but it was frustrating because I was on the bench for a couple of months at the start of the season. I had to bide my time but that’s where the mental strength has to come into it. You have to believe in yourself, what you’re doing and say that you’re good enough.”
Good enough he proved to be as Alec broke into the first team two-thirds of the way through the year and the brightest moment without doubt came in the final home game of the season in a 1-0 win over rivals Dundalk. That night Alec played at times in a quarterbackesque role, and his coolness and creativity on the ball was evident throughout the contest. That night Byrne came up against one of the best players in the competition, Chris Shields, who plays in a similar position to Alec, and the young midfielder certainly did not look out of place. “He’s a great player and I like to get on the ball a lot as well and control the play like him, so it’s important to try and get pointers off players like that and if I can play against teams like Dundalk I can obviously improve then too.”
While this was his first breakthrough year at senior level, Alec has previously caused heads to turn following what will go down as historic games for the club in the UEFA Youth League, the underage version of the Champions League. Alec, then playing alongside his great friend and current Ipswich Town player, Aaron Drinan, was a key part of the club’s victory over HJK Helsinki in a qualifying round, and then a monumental tie against AS Roma, which City narrowly lost. Nevertheless, Alec was very impressive and after the encounter he received several approaches from different clubs in Italy, who sought his signature. At the time Alec admits that parental advice kept the naturally venturous 17 year-old in him grounded and he prioritised completing his Leaving Certificate above anything else. “My mum and dad definitely kept me under control but looking back now I’m really glad they did because obviously I’m playing first-team football now with Cork City. I’m studying Arts with economics now and even though I’m missing some lectures with training I know that I’ll come out of UCC with a degree and have that to fall back on no matter what happens.”
While the young midfielder has flourished under the youth structures at the club, he spent his younger years falling in love with the game at Carrigaline United. It was here that Alec first began to kick a ball aged 5 and he has many fond memories with his local team to this day. “I loved my time there”, Alec tells The Carrigdhoun Newspaper. “Being able to play with my friends was brilliant and we were quite a successful team growing up through the years and we won the double in my last year there which I was delighted with. I think at one point about 7 or 8 of those players were playing League of Ireland football, whether it be with Cobh or Cork so we did have a very good squad,” Alec continues.
His time there has without doubt shaped Alec into the player he is today and he recalls always wanting to have the ball at his feet when he was younger. Someone quite similar to his style of play is former City player, Joe Gamble, who was recently appointed as assistant manager for the season ahead. Byrne is already learning tips and bits of advice from the past star and he is hoping to improve on his own game between now and March. His own pre-season has already started for Alec and he may be seen running around the village in preparation for the campaign ahead. Here’s hoping that he can build on the progress he has made in recent months and become a first-team regular again when the season commences.
Best of luck Alec!
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