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Russ Penn One on One with AFC Fylde’s Neill Byrne

KNEESY DOES IT: Neill Byrne, left, celebrates a Fylde goal PICTURE: Action Images

By Russ Penn, Kidderminster Harriers player-coach

Neill Byrne is aiming to be a part of history this season as AFC Fylde look to reach the Football League for the first time while also going for FA Trophy glory.

Here the Irishman explains what’s behind their success, how his football career began and the time a kitman had a lucky escape from a team coach.

Neil! Straight in! Can Fylde get promotion this year?
We’ve put ourselves in a great position as no one is running away with the league. The National League is as open as I’ve ever known with Wrexham, Leyton Orient, Solihull, Salford and ourselves all vying for the top spot. It’s within our capabilities and that’s what we will be aiming for going into the business end of the season.

What’s been the reason for your relative success so far this season?
We demand a lot from ourselves in training which comes a lot from the management team. Dave Challinor has instilled this into us from day one.

There’s no secret that we have the best striker in the league. Danny Rowe has done it season after season and that is what you need when knocking on the League door, but also at the other end of the pitch it’s important having a goalkeeper of Jay Lynch’s ability, who has earned us points at vital occasions. Collectively as a team we’ve defended well this season – our goals against column speaks for itself with only 32 conceded all year. I also believe the FA Trophy run we are on has helped us maintain our standards in the league as it keeps the winning mentality.

As a young lad growing up in Portmarnock, Ireland, Was the dream always to play in England?
Oh yes. I grew up in a house with three older brothers who all loved football and my dad was the manager at my local Sunday league team, so I was always going to love it. Everyone loved Manchester United, and especially Roy Keane who was the king back in Ireland. It’s only when you get to 15/16 you start to think of playing professionally, but up until then I just did it for the love of it, you can’t beat getting back from school and playing on the streets ‘til dark. Great memories.

Do you miss home?
I miss my family and friends a lot but it softens the blow when you’re over here doing something you love. Fylde are a club with big ambitions and the chairman and co are striving to achieve them.

I also have a lot of friends around Manchester which has helped me settle back in the area after a year at Gateshead.

You’ve played a handful of games in the league, What would it be like to get back there?
I am very lucky to play football professionally but obviously like any player I have my own ambitions to play as high as possible. I really hope I can do that with Fylde as it has everything in place for the Football League.

Toughest opponent?
I came through the academy at Nottingham Forest playing nice, pretty, tactical football. Having done well in the youth team I was given the chance in the reserves. That’s when football really hit home. Tom Pope (Port Vale) was a very hard player, physical with a great touch. He wasn’t quick or skilful but he knew how to play men’s football in the professional game. That was an eye opener for me as a young Irishman trying to make a name for myself over here.

Best Football tale?
When I was at Rochdale back in the 2012-13 season, we had just beaten Charlton Athletic away, – a great result. We didn’t have a game the following ten days so it we arranged to have a night out back home closer to Rochdale.

As you can imagine the bus was in full swing with songs and beers as the lads enjoyed taking the three points home. As we unpacked the bus back in Rochdale the physio ‘Jim’ was last off and went to get the remaining bits of gear off the bottom of the coach. The driver not noticing he was there closed the doors automatically with Jim half in the luggage department and half out. He was screaming for his life and was lucky the lads were there to tell the driver to stop!

Best mate in football?
Kevin Long is someone I met when I was at Rochdale, I shouldn’t be friends with him though as when we signed him I didn’t play again as we were both centre halves. As they say “The Irish stick together” and we have done so. We lived together for five years and go away every summer. He’s a great lad who’s having a fantastic career. Top pro.

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