GLENAVON HONOURS PAUL BYRNE
Glenavon has honoured Paul Byrne, its longest serving player of the post-war era, by placing a framed photograph of him on the boardroom wall. The Belfast man joins other club greats such as Wilbur Cush and Jimmy Jones who have been similarly recognised.
The photograph was officially unveiled during the half-time interval of Glenavon’s recent home fixture against Crusaders. Paul and daughter Alex were guests. Chairman Adrian Teer praised the long-serving defender for his 16 years’ service and made particular reference to the fact that he is one of only six men to have captained an Irish Cup winning team during his Glenavon career.
Paul and daughter Alex admire the new framed photograph in the Glenavon boardroom
Later in the afternoon Paul was a guest of the William Walker Glenavon Supporters’ Club. The William Walker club also unveiled a portrait in its clubroom. Chairman Chris Gilkinson referred to the fact that Paul had spent almost his entire career at Mourneview Park. “In today’s game, when there are so many transfers, it is very unusual for a player to spend such a long time at one club,” he said. “It was a sign of your commitment to Glenavon and your huge contribution to the team that you played for us for so many years.” Chris then presented Paul with a replica of the portrait which had been added to the Walker’s “honour” wall.
Paul replied with warm words of appreciation. “I was privileged to play here for sixteen years,” he said. “I enjoyed every minute. Glenavon is a unique club. It is so welcoming, its supporters so generous. Every time I return, I am made to feel special. It is humbling to be spoken about in the same terms as people like Wilbur Cush and Jimmy Jones. They are international players who are remembered not just by Glenavon supporters but by Irish football fans generally.”
Paul accepts the gift of a framed photograph from William Walker Glenavon Supporters’ Club chairman Chris Gilkinson and treasurer Roy McStea.
Paul Byrne arrived at Mourneview Park in late September 1983. He had been with Drogheda United before his move to Lurgan. Although not yet 20, he soon established himself as one of Glenavon’s top players and performed consistently well season after season. In April 1989 he played in the famous 6-1 victory against Linfield in the Budweiser Cup Final Replay. Three years later he lifted the Irish Cup following another never-to-be-forgotten victory at the Oval against the Belfast Blues.
“We struggled in the 1980s until the club got onto its feet financially and was able to compete in the transfer market,” Paul explained. “Then we started to bring in quality players. Good players improve any team. The likes of Stephen McBride, Gary Blackledge, Glenn Ferguson, Raymond McCoy and others made us stronger and more competitive. The Budweiser Cup win gave us the confidence to believe that we could go on and challenge for bigger prizes.”
Byrne’s finest performance in a Glenavon shirt was arguably at the Parc Lescure, Bordeaux in September 1990. Then the Football Club des Girondins de Bordeaux, to give it its full title, was challenging Marseille to become the top club in France. The first leg of the UEFA Cup first round tie, played at Mourneview Park, ended in a 0-0 draw. Two weeks later, the teams met again on a Tuesday night in the French city. The game, shown live on TF1, France’s national broadcaster, ended in a 2-0 victory for the home club. Michel Platini, the French national coach, attended. Afterwards, he chose Paul as his “Player of the Match.”
“That was obviously a great honour,” Paul reflected. “Platini was one of the greatest players of all time. I had done well in the home leg too and there was talk, after that match, that Bordeaux might be interested in me, but they changed coach and, even though I had a good game in France, nothing materialised.”
Paul Byrne in action during the 1990s.
Byrne made several appearances for the Irish League representative team. When it played a series of games in the U.S.A. in 1989, the manager, Roy Coyle, chose Paul as the tour’s outstanding performer.
The Belfast man played his 500th match for Glenavon against Distillery at New Grosvenor Stadium in April 1994. Usually a sweeper, he was, at this stage, playing on the right side of midfield. Later that month he scored the crucial goal in a 1-0 victory against Cliftonville which kept Glenavon top of the League ahead of the 30th and final fixture versus Portadown at Mourneview Park.
“I recall that goal very well,” he said. “Some space opened up for me inside the penalty area and I managed to make good contact with the ball when I hit it. Thankfully, it went straight past the goalkeeper into the far corner of the net.”
During his final years with Glenavon, Paul, then a youth worker at Willowbank Y.C., returned to education andqualified as a teacher. He also met and married Debbie McCosh. Paul, Debbie and family live in the Ballymena area.
Paul made 668 first-team appearances for Glenavon. Twenty-three were in the role of substitute. He scored 37 goals.
In January 1996 Glenavon made him an Honorary Life Member.