Byrne says son saw how drink and gambling ruined his own career and will not make same mistakes
NO-ONE needs to remind Paul Byrne that football can be a cruel game. At the humble surroundings of Cherrywood Road in Farnborough on Tuesday night, he experienced the latest low point of his roller coaster career.
Now manager of Hemel Hempstead Town, a club with an average attendance of 282 this season, the former Celtic midfielder saw his team's bid to earn promotion from the Southern League Premier Division falter in agonising fashion as they lost a penalty shoot-out against Farnrborough Town in the play-off final.
But just 24 hours after life in the seventh tier of the English football pyramid dealt Byrne a disappointment, events in Glasgow provided him with a source of pride and delight.
On Wednesday night at Hampden, the venue where Byrne netted one of two goals he scored in Old Firm matches during his two year spell with Celtic in the 1990s, his son Kurtis was the match winner for Hibs as they completed a famous league and cup double at under-19 level.
Byrne's own career, which saw him go from the verge of the Republic of Ireland squad for the 1994 World Cup finals to a steady decline through the lower levels of English football and back into the League of Ireland, provides all the warnings the Hibs teenager will ever need of the potential pitfalls ahead of him.
But Byrne, now looking to make a success of management after putting his own gambling and alcohol problems behind him, is certain his son can scale the heights as a player he himself failed to reach.
"Ever since Kurtis was a little lad in Dublin, you could see he had it in him to be a top footballer," says Byrne.
"He has always been a confident kid, he knows what his strengths are as a player and he wants to make the most of himself. As long as Kurtis gets the right coaching, there's no doubt he can make it to the top in the game.
"It's fantastic what has happened to him over the past week or so, scoring the goals which have won the double for the Hibs lads.
"I was really down after my team lost our play-off final on Tuesday night, but you learn to get used to ups and downs in football. I couldn't be happier for Kurtis and we've been texting and phoning all day about it. I just hope he gets his chance in the first team at Hibs now, because he is ready for it.
"He is a very passionate and determined kid. He knows all about the mistakes I made in my caeer with drinking and gambling. He saw the damage it did to me and he won't make the same mistakes. Kurtis doesn't want to go down the wrong road. He doesn't like gambling or drinking, he is just focused on being a footballer."
Byrne, who will be 37 next month, has closely monitored his son's progress since he turned out for the renowned Cherry Orchard youth club in Dublin which has also been the breeding ground for successful Irish players such as Andy Reid, Glenn Whelan and Willo Flood.
In July 2006, Kurtis joined Norwich City after also having trials with their local rivals Ipswich Town. Despite being a regular in the Carrow Road club's academy side and then making several appearances for their reserve team, he failed to settle in East Anglia and in September 2007 bought out his Norwich contract in order to sign a two year contract at Hibs in a deal involving two of his father's former Celtic team-mates.
"Peter Grant was manager of Norwich at the time," recalls Paul, "and he spoke to John Collins who was in charge of Hibs. Basically, Kurtis never felt at home at Norwich. He also had a mystery illness during his time there which didn't help.
"Since he has gone to Hibs, though, he has been a totally different kid. He is really enjoying it at the club and has done so well for them. He is 19 now and has to be knocking on the first team door."
The Hibs striker has already displayed a happy knack for being an influential contributor to his team, scoring last minute winning goals in both the title-clinching match against Motherwell last Friday and the dramatic SFA Youth Cup final against Rangers at Hampden.
His sudden prominence in Scottish football is also a source of satisfaction for Sean McCaffrey, the Republic of Ireland youth teams coach who has capped Byrne from under-16 to under-19 level so far.
"Kurtis is very quick, strong and good technically," McCaffrey told The Scotsman. "His only problem has been a lack of consistency. If he can get that into his game, then he is capable of being the best player on the pitch at a high level. If not, he is also capable of being one of the least effective.
"All Kurtis needs to do is sort out the mental side of his game. He is terrific to work with, a really grand fellow, and he just wants to play football as much as he can. If he can bring that focus and consistency to his game, he can be a top class player."
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