For millions of youngsters around the world, watching Manchester United play at Old Trafford would be a dream come true, writes Liam Godinh0.
But 16-year-old Sam Byrne from Kill is well beyond that. He has just completed his first year in the club’s academy, playing regularly in the Theatre of Dreams.
While playing for St Joseph’s Boys AFC, Sam was watched by scouts from a number of English clubs, including Man United.
“I went over on trial, went back a few times and ended up signing,” Sam told the Leinster Leader last week.
“There were a few scouts from other clubs as well and I went to a few different ones on trial.”
Sam’s decision came down to three clubs: Aston Villa, Wolves and Man United.
“They were probably my three favourite clubs (that I went to). I liked everywhere to be honest but I just liked United the best. It’s just where I felt the most comfortable. If I’d felt more comfortable at a lower club I would have gone there. I just felt the most at home there.”
Sam signed for the club in July of last year, when he turned 16. It meant moving over to Manchester to develop in the club academy. For someone so young, leaving home can be difficult.
“It was hard but once I got over there I was fine. I haven’t been one bit homesick over the whole year. Obviously it was a bit hard at the start just before I left but once I got over there and started playing it was fine. I settled in pretty quick and everything was fine.”
Being part of such a big club is something of a full time job. Training sessions are held twice a day, a massive step up from the two sessions a week at St Joseph’s. But the young striker is very happy with his first year at the club.
“Every week it’s unbelievable to be able to go out and play and put on that shirt. It’s one of the best clubs in the world.
“This year was good for me to get settled in and I was happy with the football as well.”
Sam trains with the academy at the club’s training centre in Carrington, the same place as the first team players. So he is used to seeing the likes of Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes around the place. He has also spoken to Sir Alex Ferguson a few times. And he has settled in well with the other academy players.
Although the training schedule is a lot more intense than Sam was previously used to, he does have a lot of free time too.
“You’re back at 3.30 every day so you’ve the rest of the day. The Trafford Centre – a big shopping centre – is just down the road so I spend a lot of time there.”
When the season ended, the soon to be 17-year-old was able to come home to Kill for six weeks. He was also home a few times over the course of the season.
“I was back maybe every month and a half just for a weekend or a few days if I got a break in fixtures.”
Sam’s first goal for the Man United under-18 side came against Liverpool. Last October he scored a hat-trick for an Ireland side that trounced Liechtenstein 7-0 in the first phase of the U17 European Championship qualifiers.
But while both of those will have been memorable achievements for Sam, he says the highlight of the last year has been “playing out in Old Trafford. Just getting out there and being able to play was unbelievable.”
Sam is under no illusions as to how difficult it would be to eventually break into the first team and he seems to have his feet firmly on the ground. For now his ambition is just to keep his place in the academy side.
“I just want to keep scoring goals. Hopefully it’ll be a good year for stuff like that and I can keep my place in the team.”
If he can do that, who knows, we might see Sam scoring goals in the Premier League and for Ireland in a few years time.