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This is my big opportunity to live my football dream - Byrne.

Byline: Colin Stoner

T'S fair to say life has been Ifull of surprises, despairing one moment and delightful the next, for Jack Byrne in the last few months.

But after the anguish of becoming a victim of the recession in losing his job as roofer, comes the unbridled joy of fulfilling his childhood dream to become a full-time footballer.

Barely a year after stepping up three levels to join Redditch United from Stratford Town, the 20-year-old midfielder will next week join the non-League elite by signing for Kidderminster Harriers.

Byrne will bid farewell to Gary Whild's Redditch after playing against Workington today and then against Stafford Rangers next Tuesday before linking up with FA Trophy semi-finalists Harriers. S

All-action Byrne has never been one to shirk a challenge, figuratively or literally, and now he is ready to tackle the biggest challenge of all. To win a professional contract.

"As a kid, it's everybody's dream to be a full-time footballer and that certainly was the case for me," said By r ne.

"There was never a moment when I thought I wanted to be a doctor or an architect. I was football mad. I still am.

"Now I've got the chance to be a full-time player and I can't wait.

"I know it's a new challenge but it was also a challenge for me when I left Stratford to come to Redditch. Now I want to prove I can play at the next level."

Byrne has spent the last two weeks training with Harriers and manager Steve Burr wasted little time in deciding to sign him on non-contract terms for the rest of the season.

"I went training with Kidderminster thinking that they would be looking at me for next season," said Byrne. "I didn't think anything would happen for this season but then after training on the Monday and Tuesday Steve said he wanted me to sign.

"I just couldn't turn down the opportunity. Now my target is to impress and get a contract for next season."

Burr admits Byrne has been on his list of players to watch for the past few seasons when he was in charge of Stalybridge Celtic.

"Jack is someone I've been keeping an eye on for the past few seasons," said Burr. "Gary Whild has been kind enough to let him come training with us and we've been able to bring him in.

"He is young, he is hungry, and every time he has played against a team on mine he has been the one player that has stood out. He is the sort of player that I think can really do well here."

While it will be the M42 which will be the road to making his ow n dream come true, Byrne needs only to glance at the squads of Chelsea, Kettering Town and NK Interbloc in Slovenia to realise that the path to foot-balling fulfilment is a long and winding one.

The Hall Green-based youngster played alongside Daniel Sturridge, James Dance and Jamie Sheldon before they made their mark.

Chelsea and England Under-21 striker Sturridge was a contemporary for a brief spell with Villa's youth set-up, while Dance and Sheldon, had been with him this season at Redditch before earning full-time contracts. Dance is now with Blue Square Premier high-fliers Kettering, while striker Sheldon became a rare English export by joining Slovenian First Division side NK Interbloc from Ljubiljana.

Byrne is envious, rather than jealous, but seeing his pals progress had made him even more driven to succeed.

"Everything is possible in football," said Byrne. "I played with James for a few months and now he is playing full-time at Kettering. He got his chance and he took it.

"Jamie got released by Blues at 18 but he never let it knock his determination to be a full-time player. He came to Redditch and now he's in Slovenia." As a schoolboy, Byrne spent four years from the age of ten with Villa's academy. But at 14 he found himself surplus to requirements.

"It was disappointing, it was upsetting at the time, but life goes on," he said. "Some people thing 'that's it, I don't want to play any more.' I speak to players from the youth set-up and there's hardly any that are still playing.

"But that's not me. It's still my dream to be a professional player and I'm not giving up. If you take a knock, you have to bounce back."

And sometimes that means taking a step back, too.

After Villa, Byrne joined Moor Green's youth team and the Solihull College academy which put him under the guidance of Micky Moore, who was the football development chief.

Moore became his mentor, gave Byrne his debut at the age of 16 with Solihull Borough in their final season in the Southern League and then took him to Stratford. Then last January Redditch snapped him up and he rapidly became one of the first names on the Reds teamsheet.

"When I first joined, it was a new experience for me in terms of stepping up from the Alliance. It was a jump of three levels," said Byrne.

"Playing in the Conference North is a tough league but you are playing against better players, players who have played a lot higher, and you have to raise your game too. It's been a great learning curve.

"You learn in every single game." Byrne says he owes a huge debt to Moore, who, by a neat coincidence, also joined Redditch in the summer as Whild's No 2. "If it wasn't for Micky I wouldn't be where I am today," said the youngster.

"He took me from the youth team and put me in the first team at 16 at Solihull and that really lifted my confidence. There aren't many managers who would include a 16-year-old but Micky gave me an opportunity."

Now Byrne has the opportunity to prove himself as a professional.


Opportunity knocks: Jack Byrne wants to seize his chance to become a full-time footballer
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Feb 27, 2010
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