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Gareth McAuley

Mark Byrne's shot at big league may be over after moment of madness

Gareth McAuley


Warrenpoint goalkeeper Mark Byrne was involved in an incident with spectators in injury-time, which saw the fence collapse and fans spill onto the field.

Warrenpoint goalkeeper Mark Byrne was involved in an incident with spectators in injury-time, which saw the fence collapse and fans spill onto the field.

Warrenpoint goalkeeper Mark Byrne was involved in an incident with spectators in injury-time, which saw the fence collapse and fans spill onto the field.

I'm not sure if Warrenpoint's young keeper Mark Byrne had any aspirations of playing professional football across the water - but if he did - then those hopes and dreams may just have been quashed by his moment of madness at Millfield last Saturday.

I've watched the incident at the end of the Irish Cup clash between Warrenpoint and Ballymena United online, heard claim and counter claim from both clubs throughout the week, but still I come to the same conclusion - there is simply no excuse for a player jumping over the barrier and attacking supporters.

It's just ridiculous and his actions, throwing punches at Ballymena fans before being sent off, will likely taint him for the rest of his career, especially with the internet being a source of record and everything stored away.

There will be no hiding place.

Byrne looks set to receive a long ban this week when the Irish FA's disciplinary committee convenes, but the ramifications for his career could pose the severest of punishments.

When clubs in the professional ranks are assessing players they look into their history, character, personality and how they deal with adversity. Byrne's actions would send up an immediate red flag.

I've been fortunate to play football from the bottom right to the top level and the scrutiny on you in professional football can be overwhelming. From the fans in the terraces, supporters in the streets, the media in newspapers, online and television, plus the social media rants, your every move could be questioned.

And as a professional, you can't react. You do need to turn the other cheek and bite your lip.

Goalkeepers in particular take the brunt of the abuse because they are constantly in the goalmouth close to the fans. Roy Carroll for years took a huge amount of abuse for his addiction issues that he went through in his life. He hurt, it stung, but you must block it out.

And usually the shouts are from an individual rather than a collective group. Usually a well educated person, with a good job turns into a neanderthal when he goes to the football.

They belt out their offensive observations with such vitriol, looking for a reaction.

It even happens off the pitch. I was in Edinburgh with Aaron Hughes a few years back and it is hard to believe anybody would try and antagonise Aaron, but these two guys did. One of them was in his face berating him while the other was recording it. My initial reaction was to physically remove these guys from Hughesy's personal space, but as footballers we have the responsibility of role models and, they were looking for a reaction so they could then post it online. We let it ride out and when they didn't get the reaction they wanted, they took off - but it was infuriating.

Fans wise, I've usually had a good relationship with most football supporters, but during Michael O'Neill's first two years in charge of Northern Ireland when we weren't doing too well, I felt I had to have a pop in the media at some our fans and I was critical of what I viewed as a lack of support.

There was a great deal of young players in our squad and they were struggling with the negativity.

It was a tactic by me, I was hoping for a reaction in the stands and it would galvanise the team on the pitch. It did. Of course online there was a huge backlash against me and I read most of the comments. Most people when they are posting online think there is like a security screen and the person they are hitting out may not see it, but I read all the negative comments, even from people I knew and liked! It stayed with me. I put my head above the parapet for a reason and when I got back to my club, then boss Steve Clarke pulled me aside and said: "Did you really say that? That was bold."

But I felt it necessary and I was soon back onside with the fans through my performances in a green shirt.

For the Warrenpoint keeper, when he returns after his ban, the barracking will only get worse.

Fans know he is now sensitive and vulnerable and they will be looking to exploit that.

I just hope he learns to keep his cool, otherwise, he'll soon be in the stands permanently, as a spectator, and any professional ambitions will be in tatters.

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Belfast Telegraph