HAVING missed their entire league campaign to date due to a stress fracture he sustained in pre-season, Cork City midfielder Alec Byrne is hoping to get some game time before the end of the season.
The 23-year-old only recently returned to training with the Rebel Army and feels that he is close to full fitness.
“It’s not been as difficult going back in training as I thought it would be considering how long I was out for. I was a bit rusty at the start but I’m training most days, even after games on a Friday I get another session on Saturday morning as well,” Byrne said.
“So I’m feeling good and I’m raring to go. I’ll be ready if called upon and would love to get a few minutes on the pitch.
“I’m doing a lot of prehab now with my ankle and foot. So that takes time before we start training.
“The change in weather has meant that pitches are no longer as hard as they were, so that has helped me as well because there is less pressure on my foot when I am running.
I’m only coming back from having surgery a few months ago, so I have to stay on top of the injury and make sure I don’t suffer any setbacks.”
City are on the brink of promotion and could seal it next week at home against Wexford.
Although he is a member of the squad, having not played in the league, Byrne does not feel he deserves any credit for what his teammates have achieved.
“Personally, it is hard to feel part of it when you have missed the season. It’s been tough because I have constantly been on the sidelines or I have been running by myself.
“But over the last two months, I have been training with the lads, but I still haven’t contributed much, so it is a weird feeling.
“I know everyone at the club will say I am part of it and that’s because we do have a very tight group but I just feel personally I’ve missed so much of the season, that I haven’t contributed enough.”
Byrne did feature in the majority of games last season and believes that the difference between this year and last, is the team’s ability to defend leads in games.
“This year we have certainly been better defensively. Last year we were leaking stupid goals.
“Like there were probably times last year where we were playing better in games and drawing or losing them than the games we have been winning this season.
“We would go ahead in matches last season and we always just seemed to concede soft goals. We are a lot harder to break down this season.
“We defend well and always create chances, which more often than not we take. We have been solid at the back and I think we have been hard to play against.
“When you have experienced players at the back like Ally Gilchrist, Kevin O’Connor and Cian Coleman, lads that have played in the league for a long time, I think that is massive.
“They know what it takes to grind out results. They bring a lot of communication and calmness to the side.
“Ally always seems to get himself into positions where he is either cutting out a cross or blocking a shot. I would definitely think he will be close to winning the league’s player of the year.
“I think he has been brilliant. Even in training he is always very good. You can just tell he reads a game so well.
“I think he was exactly the type of player we needed this year. He’s a massive character and brings a lot of experience.”
Having recently faced Derry City in the FAI Cup and come up against one of the best teams in the country, Byrne knows the team will have to improve again to compete in the Premier Division if promoted.
“Derry were very good. The lads did think that game was a big step up from what they have been used to.
“The feedback I got from most of the players was that Derry were a different level to what they have faced.
“It will be a big step up but you are not going to be playing Derry every week and I suppose the more games you play in the Premier Division, the better you will be able to compete in it.”