Livingston midfielder Shaun Byrne feels he is the fittest and the strongest he has ever been in his career as the former Dunfermline midfielder reveals how the Lions manager David Hopkin has helped his career, with Byrne’s game becoming more rounded since signing on at The Tony Macaroni Arena in the summer of 2016.
Following promotion to the Championship in the summer, Livi’s main aim was to stay in the division and Byrne is pleased he and his team-mates have met this remit.
“We are all delighted with the way the season has gone, so far. We have worked really hard this campaign to get us to where we are right now and now we are beginning to reap the rewards. However, there are still a lot of games remaining this term, so, we have to ensure that we keep working hard and playing the way we know we can.
Our aim was to stay up after winning the League One title last season. We have always just taken it one game at a time and tried to do our best to pick up points, where and when we can. Thankfully, we have managed to do that consistently enough this season to guarantee our safety in the Championship.”
Byrne was asked the difference between the ecstasy of winning a league title and the pleasure of keeping a club up in a higher division, with the Fifer replying:
“It is a great feeling to know we are staying up and we have met the clubs target for this season. It is a really good achievement, but, nothing beats winning a league winners medal, that is a special feeling which you can’t replicate. They are both great successes in their own individual ways: we are just happy to have met our aims as a group this season.
There is a lot of quality and good players within our team – we have a lot of talented football players. Also, we all work our socks off and would run through brick walls for one another. The team spirit is probably the main factor in why we have done so well over the past 18 months; from the players to the coaching staff, we all work very hard together, every day, to improve collectively and individually. Everyone deserves massive credit for what we have done so far, but, as I keep saying, there is a long way still to go this season and we cannot take our foot off the gas.”
Since moving to The Tony Macaroni Arena, Byrne has developed his game into an all-round midfielder, under the guidance of Lions boss, David Hopkin.
“I would say I am playing very well at the moment. I feel I have been pretty consistent throughout the whole season. I have been playing next to Pitts [Scott Pittman] for the past two seasons and he is a great player. We have built up a really good partnership and understanding in the middle of the park, but, there are plenty others who could step in and play well in that position if needed – we have a strong squad. The gaffer has been great for me and he has definitely brought me on as a player, since signing for Livingston. It helps your game when you know the manager and the coaching staff trust you: that has certainly brought the best out in me.
I’ve played as the deepest midfielder most of this season, and I have really enjoyed playing in that role. I think I am the fittest and the strongest that I have ever been in my entire career, at present, and in my opinion, that is down to the work being put in daily on the training ground. I want to keep on learning and getting better every day.”
Livingston added to their squad in the January transfer window, bringing in guys such as Lee Miller and Ryan Hardie to boost the Lions in attack.
“[Ryan] Hardie has come in and hit the ground running – he is a great player and a fantastic finisher. Big Lee [Miller] has been incredible for us too: his attitude is one of the best I have ever seen throughout my professional career. I am sure he is 34 now, but, he is still really fit and hungry to do well. He has been a massive signing for us, on and off the park; he is a good guy to have around and help the mood within the changing room. He will be able to help out our other strikers at the club, but, every player can learn something off him, too. We have had other guys come in, as well though, who are good players and have added to the group; Jordan Thompson, Big Gregor [Buchanan] and Boydy [Steven Boyd] are all top players also. We have got real strength and depth within the squad and that can only benefit us.
We have worked hard all season and that is all we can do as players. People might have underestimated us, but, that is up to them. There is a massive difference between League One and Championship level. We all knew we had to up our game this term, if we wanted to do well. It is a demanding league; there are a lot of good players and experienced squads involved in the Championship, this campaign. We will just keep our heads down and look after ourselves.”
With Livi now sitting clear in second, people may look at the West Lothian side putting on a late title challenge to current league leaders, St Mirren.
“The target was to remain within the Championship, we have done that: the gaffer has told us to go out there and try to pick up as many points as possible in the remaining games and we will see where it takes us. We all wanted the [Dunfermline] game to be on [last Saturday], but, we understand that health and safety must come first, for both the players and the supporters. I am sure we would have taken a really good crowd through – they have been brilliant with us all season and we hope if we can keep winning, more fans will start to watch us on a more regular basis.”