Alex ‘Timmy’ Byrne first signed for United back in 2014 from Salthill Devon. In his last season with Salthill Devon, Byrne captained the Under 19 side and represented Ireland’s schoolboy team, scoring against England at Turner’s Cross. He also made 10 appearances for Salthill Devon’s senior team in the First Division. Regarded as a hot youth prospect he was snapped up by United, and for the past five seasons he has been a mainstay in the heart of United’s midfield. Byrne may just be turning 23 this March, but he has decided to take time away from sports to travel abroad.
Under-age Football Days.
In his younger days Byrne’s interest in football began with Manchester United, who he still follows to this day “even though it’s been a little less bearable the last few years”. Byrne had a number of idols growing up in football, one of which was Brazilian legend Ronaldinho – “I used to be mad for Ronaldinho because when I first started having an interest in football he was leaving PSG and there was a rumour he would go to United and I watched him then because he was the next big thing.” Although the Ronaldinho to Manchester United never quite transpired, he was still a joy to watch from a footballing point of view. Byrne also mentioned some players who inspired his development as a player more directly, “With regards to inspiration for myself I used to love Carlos Puyol when he was playing, and then later Vidic and Scholes were big players for me”.
“The game against England was something else, scoring my first international goal was something I’ll never forget for sure. I also got my first red card in that game with about a minute to go, but that was probably the icing on the cake in hindsight because it wasn’t a bad tackle or anything mad and it didn’t affect the outcome of the game at all. So it all just added to the experience really”.
Byrne’s first experiences in football came with Salthill Devon’s youth sides, who “were one of the best teams in the country from Under 13 to Under 16”. Then when Byrne moved up to Under 17, the Under 19 League was formed. He says that “I was lucky enough to have a manager that trusted my ability and I played a lot for someone so young that season”. In Byrne’s second season with the Under 19’s he enjoyed a very good season in which they “came third in the league and narrowly lost out to Cork City in the FAI Cup Semi-final. That Under 18 team contained a few names well-known to United supporters today such as Conor O’Malley, Colm Horgan (“at left back who was a complete weak link in the defense of course), Conor Barry, and United’s new signing Andy Peters. Coming towards the end of that season he began to train with the First Team without making an appearance, before making his breakthrough the following season. Nearing the end of the Under 19 Season Galway United was re-formed and he began training there. Bryne was still very appreciative of his time with Devon, saying “without my time at Devon I wouldn’t have had that opportunity, so I’m grateful for it”.
During his Under-age playing days Byrne also got the call up to represent Ireland’s Under 18 schoolboys team. He went on to start every game and get nominated for Player of the Tournament amongst his own team, before losing out to future Irish International Alan Browne. Arguably the highlight of the tournament for Byrne, however, came in the game against England at Turner’s Cross. “The game against England was something else, scoring my first international goal was something I’ll never forget for sure. I also got my first red card in that game with about a minute to go, but that was probably the icing on the cake in hindsight because it wasn’t a bad tackle or anything mad and it didn’t affect the outcome of the game at all. So it all just added to the experience really”.
“The Saudi Arabian thing was a shambles really. As players we only had one meeting with the board and that was at the very beginning. We were never kept in the loop and were never told it was off the table, we just came to that conclusion ourselves when nothing. So it was poorly enough handled really, we knew nothing about it!”
At the beginning of the 2014 season Byrne made the switch from Salthill Devon to Galway United, and faced a bit of a step-up from Under 19 level. Byrne spoke about the transition from Under 19 to Senior Level, saying “it was difficult in a few ways, obviously it was the best players around but it was also my first time in a proper ‘professional’ set-up where lads were getting fined and all that, so it was time to step it up a little I felt. I was probably in the youngest three or four players there and meeting a lot of lads I had never met before who were much older (and grayer Marc Ludden!), so that was daunting itself. At that stage I probably wasn’t the most confident guy before I got to know someone, so I was probably quiet in the dressing room for the first month or two until I got to know the lads. I also had an offer to go up to Derry that year for a fortnight under Roddy Collins to go play centre-mid. I guess he had seen me the previous year when he won the league with Athlone, but I was too nervous to go up there and risk not getting a contract at either club”.
Over the course of his five season stay with United Byrne played under a number of different managers, however, he says that “things didn’t differ a huge amount for me with the different managers, training styles wee different but they are between every manager anyway so I can’t really say anything negative on that side of things”. One thing that Byrne did find notably different from manager to manager was that “certainly some put much more emphasis on analysis than others. That helped a lot sometimes, but also took away from us on other occasions. You learn from theses things though, and I’d say I got on well with all my managers to a reasonable extent”.
Byrne’s career with United had many highs and lows, from the positive perspective of this his “most memorable victory was either the [First Division play-off final] win against UCD because it was my first taste of success in Senior Football, or the [2015 League Cup Semi-final] penalty shootout win against Dundalk because my mate Colm [Horgan] bagged the winning penalty! I ended up playing about an hour on the left-wing that game, with him playing left-back which we both really enjoyed- so it’s a coin toss between those two”.
On the other side of things, Byrne also discussed his worst moment in a United shirt. “Worst moment on a personal level was hands down my injury, but as a team it was the relegation for sure. We went into that last game needing other results to go our way, on top of needing to beat Dundalk- which is obviously never the game you want to have to determine if you stay up or not, but the lads put in a good shift that night but it just wasn’t meant to be”.
Having played alongside a whole host of quality players it was hard for Byrne to narrow down the list of best players he has played alongside. One player who stood out in particular for him though was Preston midfielder Alan Browne, who he played alongside with Ireland at underage level. “I suppose you’d have to say the best player I’ve played alongside is probably Alan Browne. Obviously he has come on leaps and bounds since I played with him, so if I was to compare him then to lads I’ve played with now he wouldn’t be the best, but he was only 17 at the time like myself! I’ve been fortunate to play with a lot of quality players though it would be tough to pick just one- Stephen Folan, Colm Horgan, Ronan Murray, Gavan Holohan… all quality players. Even Robbie Williams last year had the sweetest strike of the ball and he’s nearly fifty now!”
One of the biggest stories surrounding Galway United during the season just passed was undoubtedly the supposed Saudi Arabian investment, which never materialised. As the entire thing unfolded the supporters of United felt very in the dark about what was going on, as did the players. “The Saudi Arabian thing was a shambles really. As players we only had one meeting with the board and that was at the very beginning. We were never kept in the loop and were never told it was off the table, we just came to that conclusion ourselves when nothing. So it was poorly enough handled really, we knew nothing about it!”
Saudi Arabian fiasco aside, last season was quite a disappointing one for all involved with United, but Byrne struggled to pinpoint exactly where it all went wrong for United. “I honestly couldn’t put my finger on what went wrong last year. We had a good fourteen or fifteen players in particular who I would have been confident in every week to get the win, but for whatever reason we only had two or three good performances last season where I felt ya we really clicked and I don’t think I could’ve done any better in that game. I don’t think any of us know why it was like that to be honest.”
Although he is moving onto a new chapter of his life for the time being, Byrne wouldn’t rule out a return to Galway in the future. “I can absolutely see myself playing in Galway again of course. I intend to play at some level over in Canada too because I still love football absolutely, I just needed a bit of a break and now was the time for that- while I’m still young and fortunate enough to have the opportunity”.
Finally, Byrne spoke about his plans for Canada as he prepares. “Nothing is really set in stone for Canada yet, I’m going to enjoy the first two months of it skiing while it’s still ski season. Then I’m going to move down to Toronto, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a few people reach out to help me there so I’m looking forward to that. Then I’ll take it from there really and move and move somewhere else after a few months. I want to see the whole country and not one city”.
On behalf of everyone associated with Galway United I’d like to thank Timmy Byrne for his time at the club (and for taking the time to speak with me), and wish him the best of luck in Canada.
Go n-eirí an bóthar leat,