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From United reject to Irish hero: The fall and rise of Robbie Brady

The Dubliner scored the only goal as Ireland earned a historic victory over Italy on Wednesday.

Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

- Paul Fennessy reports from Lyon

ROBBIE BRADY’S GOAL on Wednesday night meant his name was added to an elite list of Irish players to score at the European Championships, joining Ray Houghton, Ronnie Whelan, Sean St Ledger and Wes Hoolahan as part of a famous five.

His header was the culmination of a fine flowing move topped off by an inch-perfect Hoolahan cross. It was consequently that rare thing — an Irish goal that was as aesthetically impressive as it was significant, as opposed to a long ball deflecting off Niall Quinn’s backside or some archetypal Charlton-era goal.

The three players involved in the Italy moment of magic — Brady, Hoolahan and McGeady — are three of Ireland’s most technically gifted footballers, the types of players that the Boys in Green have been accused of not producing enough of (granted, Scotland technically produced McGeady).

And while McGeady and Hoolahan — both in their 30s — are much closer to end of their career than the beginning, Brady at 24 represents the future of Irish football. He is essentially the type of player that people talk of when they say the country needs to produce more technical players who are good on the ball.

And clearly, Brady’s talent was evident from an early age — he was part of the Ireland U19 side that reached the semi-finals of the European Championships alongside the notable likes of Jeff Hendrick, John Egan, Richie Towell, Greg Cunningham, Matt Doherty and Conor Hourihane.

Liam Brady admitted on RTÉ recently that Arsenal missed out on signing a 13-year-old Brady, with the youngster opting to go to United instead. However, having seemingly reached the periphery of the first team, making one League Cup appearance as well as a run in the side in pre-season, the former St Kevin’s Boys youngster was allowed leave the club to join Hull.

Not too many young players tend to bounce back strongly from being let go by Man United, but Brady — in three years since leaving the Red Devils — has done just that.

Having been the highest scorer for the team ever at U21 level for Ireland, he has gone on to win 26 Ireland caps and counting, after Giovanni Trapattoni gave the youngster his debut during a 2012 friendly with Oman.

After leaving Old Trafford, Brady established himself as a footballer of renown at Hull, helping them gain promotion to the Premier League and reach the FA Cup final during his time there, and making over 100 appearances in a four-year spell (encompassing two loans and a permanent move) with the Tigers.

Already, Brady has experienced crushing disappointment in his young career. The Dubliner has been relegated two seasons in a row, firstly with Hull and then Norwich. There are caveats, however, he could do little to stop Steve Bruce’s side’s relegation amid an injury-marred season, while he was one of the few bright spots for Norwich during their most recent turbulent campaign, coming second in their player-of-the-year vote.

Indeed, after initial skepticism greeted the £7 million signing of Brady, the crowd at Carrow Road quickly embraced the Ireland international.

Similarly, for the Boys in Green, Brady has been a revelation in recent times. Of the five goals he has managed at the international level, the last two have been absolutely crucial: the opener in the playoff against Bosnia and of course, the Italy goal.

Martin O’Neill has often been called a conservative coach, but his decision to play Brady at left-back in a vital Euro 2016 qualifier in March last year against Poland proves he is a manager more than willing to take risks.

And like many of O’Neill’s brave decisions of late, bringing in Brady has turned out to be a masterstroke. The Baldoyle native, who comes from a sporting family with two of his brothers also playing for Ireland at underage level, is such an accomplished footballer that he seems capable of playing virtually anywhere on the pitch and thriving.

He gave a consummate display in midfield against the Italians, and was similarly excellent at full-back in the Sweden opener. Where he plays this afternoon may well depend on whether Stephen Ward is declared fit, though Brady’s attacking prowess coupled with his tendency to make the occasional defensive error means O’Neill would probably ideally like to play him in midfield.

Yet regardless of what happens, Brady has already secured his status in Irish footballing history to an extent — prepare to watch Wednesday’s header over and over and over on TV for the next few years unless, of course, he can step up again today and somehow eclipse it.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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