FORMER Newport County AFC captain Mark Byrne has ended his time in the EFL after opting to return to Ireland.

The midfielder has spent the last four seasons with Gillingham after moving from County in the summer of 2016.

The 31-year-old ruptured knee ligaments in the League One meeting with Sunderland in December and his contract expired this summer.

Byrne was invited to join preparations for the September kick-off by Gillingham manager Steve Evans to try and earn a new deal but he has instead opted to return to Ireland.

Free Press Series: NEW CHALLENGE: Mark Byrne has joined League One outfit Gillingham

"I've decided I won't be returning for pre-season," the Dubliner wrote on Twitter. “I was disappointed with how things went after my injury but before that I really enjoyed my time at Gills.

“I want to thank the players and staff I’ve worked with for the last four years at the club, I have made some great friends.

“A big thanks goes out to the fans. You lot have been brilliant to me the last four years.

"I gave it my all every week and think you guys knew that. I wish the gaffer and the lads all the best for the season ahead.

“But now, after 14 years of football in the UK, with my knee almost ready, it’s time for a new challenge at home in Ireland.”

Byrne was taken to Gillingham by former County manager Justin Edinburgh four years ago after becoming a Rodney Parade favourite.

The midfielder signed in 2014 after being released by Barnet and made 52 appearances for the Exiles, scoring three goals.

The Irishman won the Argus Player of the Year after being an everpresent in 2016 and then seven honours at County’s end of season awards, including the big two of player of the year and players’ player of the year.

Byrne started his career at Nottingham Forest and had spells at Burton Albion and Rushden & Diamonds before heading for Barnet, Newport and Gillingham.