24 months ago, Livingston were preparing to kick off their League One campaign at home to Stranraer following relegation from the Scottish Championship. Since then, the Lions have roared their way back to the top of Scottish football with consecutive promotions seeing the West Lothian club participate in the first tier for the first time since the 2005-2006 campaign.
Talking to jordanburtfootball.com ahead of this weekend’s big kick-off in the SPFL Ladbrokes Premiership, key midfielder Shaun Byrne commented:
“Last season was a bit of a fairy-tale, to be honest with you. Our aim 12 months ago was to just consolidate within the Championship and avoid relegation, so, to go and achieve what we did, it is fair to say it took a few days to sink in,, with what we achieved in the end. Our success has been based upon team-work; it has required a lot of hard work from everyone associated with the club to get us to where we are today: as a group of players, we have worked tirelessly with the coaching staff – it has been a real collective effort to ensure we gained back-to-back promotions. We have a great bond and mentality, which I think shines through on the pitch as we all work our socks off for one another every time we cross that white line.”
However, the success brought to The Tony Macaroni Arena came with a price this summer as manager David Hopkin moved on, being replaced by released Rangers forward Kenny Miller, who has joined Livi as player-manager.
“It was tough for me to see him [David Hopkin] go, considering he has had a massive impact and influence on my career to date. He helped me regain my confidence as a footballer after a difficult final few months with Dunfermline. I’ve got a lot to thank him for and will forever be grateful for the faith he showed in me during his spell with the club.
It was very exciting news, however, when I heard that Kenny Miller would be coming in this summer to take over from the previous manager. He has a great reputation within Scottish football and he is a big name within the game up here. The bonus we have got is that he is still able to play, too. He is a brilliant player and I have no doubts he will make a good impact for us on the pitch this season as well as in the dugout. He has been fantastic to work alongside since day one and I have really enjoyed learning under him. They [Hopkin and Miller] are different in terms of how they want to play the game, but, both are similar in regards to the demands that they put on the players on the field of play. It is always going to be different under a new boss as the gaffer has his own ideas which he will implement.”
Livi has gotten their 2018-19 season off to a great start by picking up 11 points out of an available 12 in the BetFred Cup, which saw Byrne and his team-mates progress to the last 16.
“It was a successful beginning for us as we won the group and that was our aim at the start of the tournament. We have been implementing the gaffer’s ideas throughout these early season matches and it has been great to be able to do this, while also carrying on the momentum we have brought into this season from the previous campaign. It is always good to be feeling confident as a footballer as this is a massive part to the modern game: you have to be motivated for every match you play in and as a squad we definitely are; no matter who you play for or who your opponents are, you know in this day and age, it won’t be easy, so, we know we must be on the top of our game each and every week.
It is going to be a massive step up for the majority of us, but, as a professional sportsperson, that is what you want to do – you want to test yourself against the best players; managers and sides. We were one of the favourites to get relegated last season, so, it doesn’t really matter to us as a set of players what others think, to be honest. We are all looking forward to the season ahead: as long as we stick together as one then I am confident we will do fine this term.”
Miller has saw key players such as Neil Alexander, Jackson Longridge and Josh Mullin leave this summer, but, has been able to recruit replacements with Liam Kelly, Steven Lawless and Ryan Hardie the highlight of the olayer-manager’s recruitment drive so far.
“All the new players have settled in really well,” continues Byrne. “This is the best dressing room I have ever been involved in, so, when new players join the club, it is easy for them to instantly bond and gel with everyone else. We are very close as a group, on and off the park, which I think helps us a lot as it creates that togetherness that I have already spoken of. We have signed a lot of talented players over the summer and they all add their own individual qualities to the group. Of course, the players who departed in the close-season did extremely well for us, but, they have moved on to different clubs and another chapter in their own careers and that is what happens in football at times, so, we will move on and look to the future now. I am sure they will all do well as they are all great players and great people, but, my focus remains with Livingston and helping us achieve our goals this season.”
Starting the league campaign away to Celtic is “a reward” for all connected with the club insists Byrne.
“It is the hardest game we could have got to open up our season with, but, it is one we are all buzzing for. There is no better way to start than against the countries reigning champions, in front of a packed house. It is going to be a great occasion for us all and I feel it is a reward for all the hard work everyone at the club has put in over the past 2 years to help us get to where we are today. To be fair though, it wouldn’t of mattered who we were to come up against on Saturday, we know how tough this term is going to be. Every match this season will see us fighting and scrapping for the end, for every point we can possibly muster.
We will travel to Parkhead and give it our best shot, like we do every time we step out on to the pitch. Celtic are massive favourites – and rightly so – but we will just keep our heads down, try our hardest and see where that takes us, come 5pm on Saturday evening. It is obviously important to start well no matter what league you are in, but, we believe fully in each other and trust one another that, if things do go badly, then, we will continue to battle for the club. We want to keep this momentum going that we have built up in the Championship and in the BetFred Cup so far this season.”
Staying up is the sole objective for Byrne and his team-mates.
“That is the aim for most teams at the beginning of each campaign. It is going to be a tough ask but it is a challenge we are all looking forward to and we hope we can secure a successful season in the Premiership for Livingston. It would be another unbelievable achievement if we could steer ourselves clear of the bottom two places and remain in the top-flight for another season after this one. I just want to play as many games as I can, personally. if I can do that, I will hopefully continue developing and improving as a player. I will carry on working hard for myself, my team-mates and everyone involved with the football club and we will see where the journey takes us. I can’t wait for the challenges that face us in the coming days, weeks and months ahead and it is something I am relishing.
Things have only got better for me since I left Dunfermline as I have improved so much as a player. By playing each week, it has given me the confidence that I needed at that point in my career to kick on again. Sometimes, taking a step back can allow you to make two forward and I definitely feel this is the case in this instance; coming to Livingston has worked out a treat for me: I have absolutely loved my time with Livi so far and long may that continue! I just hope the fans can stick by us as they have done during my whole time at the club. If we can continue to encourage people along to games and can get crowds similar to that of the play-off matches last season then that’d be amazing as it honestly does help us all on the park when you have a large, vociferous, support cheering you on from the side-lines.”