Brilliant Brady is the future as Ireland look to forget French woes

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Sportsfile
The versatile Norwich City man rose to the occasion against Italy and can help the Boys In Green forge a new future seven years after Thierry Henry's infamous handball

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As soon as the Republic of Ireland were paired with France in the last 16 of Euro 2016, the theme of revenge was on everyone’s lips.

After all, in beating Italy, the Boys in Green had landed themselves a prime opportunity to take vengeance on Les Bleus for the infamous Thierry Henry handball that ultimately denied them a place at the 2010 World Cup; a chance to humiliate the French in their own back yard. However, while Henry still undoubtedly elicits a feeling of contempt in many Ireland supporters, the Irish players have refused to run with the motif.

"No. What is that, seven years ago now? It's forgotten about," said Shane Long on Friday when asked if the spectre of Henry loomed over the squad ahead of the game. "We were obviously devastated at the time that it cost us a place at the [2010 World Cup] finals but as I said, we don't even think about that.

"When it comes to the Henry handball... it's not even in our minds."

Rather than becoming wrapped up in the drama of the revenge narrative, it seems that the Ireland players prefer to look to the future. That future is, aptly, represented by the man who ensured the mouth-watering match-up with the tournament hosts in the first place: Robbie Brady.

When Henry used his hand to control the ball before setting up William Gallas’ decisive goal in 2009, Brady’s journey as a professional was just getting started. Then 18, the Dublin native was a new recruit at Manchester United, where he arrived with high expectations as a skilful attacker with bags of potential.

His career hasn’t quite panned out as initially expected in the intervening years but it certainly reached a new high in Lille on Wednesday night. When he raced into the Italian box and leapt to head beyond the hopeless Salvatore Sirigu, Brady etched his name into the annals of Irish football history.

After the game, Ireland boss Martin O’Neill hailed Brady as a "terrific player" and expressed admiration for Norwich City man's courage and determination. "He's gone as bravely as anything and it didn't matter whether he was going to get thumped by the goalkeeper or not," O'Neill beamed. "He deserved it, the team deserved it, and the fans deserved it."

Brady has earned the adulation. Having moved on from the illustrious surroundings of Old Trafford, the 24-year-old has had to work hard in order to carve out a role for himself in the previously unfamilar role of left-back, first at Hull City and now with Norwich, where this season he suffered the disappointment of another relegation from the Premier League.

He has played mainly at left-back for Ireland but the shift into midfield against Italy gave him the freedom to shine creatively and assert his will on the game. He can do it again, if given the opportunity, against France.

"I grew up waiting to play at this stage, dreaming about it since I was a little kid," Brady said after his decisive goal against Antonio Conte's side. "To go and do it in front of my family is the best feeling in the world. We've done it again. We roll on. The next game is Sunday. We need to regroup and go again."

O'Neill went for a noticeably younger team against Italy, dropping 35-year-old John O'Shea and 32-year-old Glenn Whelan - two players who featured against France seven years ago - from the starting XI. Robbie Keane, who scored in that game in Saint-Denis, had to make do with a place on the bench.

Shane Duffy, 24, came into the defence, while James McCarthy, 25, and Jeff Hendrick, 24, were given every encouragement to go out impose themselves. 

Brady was the biggest success of that more youthful selection and does not face France as a prisoner of the past. He can be the architect of a new future for the Boys in Green.

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