Saturday 23 November 2019

Child prodigy Robbie Brady coming of age

Germany the next test of Brady's long and winding journey

Robbie Brady has had a long road since leaving Dublin for Manchester United
Robbie Brady has had a long road since leaving Dublin for Manchester United
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Robbie Brady spent a good portion of his window for relaxation on Tuesday afternoon chasing his 21-month-old daughter Halle around the lobby of the Irish team hotel in Castleknock.

The scene was a reminder that Brady, a youngster in the context of Martin O'Neill's dressing room, is no longer a kid when it comes to the real world.

Spend some time in the company of the 23-year-old and that point is drilled home, especially when he reflects on his teenage years at Manchester United where he was simply too immature to thrive at one of the world's biggest clubs.

Brady had to take a step back to make a couple forward in the right direction and the combination of fatherhood and an increasing control over his career path, as evidenced by securing a summer move to Norwich which kept him in the Premier League after Hull's relegation, has made a man of the former child prodigy that had his pick of England's top clubs.

This was the boy that Liverpool flew to the 2007 Champions League final in Athens with his father in the hope of securing his services, a gesture that was not enough to sway a mind that was always set on Old Trafford.

In July of this year, Brady found the space in his schedule to come back to Dublin and attend the funeral of the legendary United scout Joe Corcoran, a figure who was instrumental in his decision.

"I knew he was the one I had to impress when I got to grips with the scouts and who was looking for you. You'd spot him a mile away," says Brady, with a smile, picturing a distinctive presence on the sideline that was taken too soon. "Joe was the man with the wise words. He lived a good life, he helped a lot of people and I'll be grateful to him for as long as I live."

Once Brady got to England, however, he had to stand on his own two feet. That process took a while, and it cost him the opportunity to make a real impact in his chosen destination. He acknowledged as much last month when Gary Neville used his pulpit on Sky Sports to compliment his Norwich displays and politely point out that the Irishman had previously lacked the real drive and focus to make the grade.

"Sometimes I wish I'd known more when I went over," he sighs, "But that's the learning curve, I suppose. Manchester United was the biggest club in the world and maybe I just dwelled on that a bit too much rather than knuckling down and doing things at 100pc all the time.

"I was young, I was naive, and if someone had said it to me, I wouldn't have paid attention because I didn't really know I was doing anything wrong. What I was used to was just being me. I'm sure coaches thought I could have put my head down a bit more and done things to the best of my ability. I felt as if I was at the time, but it was a different life, a whole different world.

"I was a boy from Dublin. I was used to hanging around until all hours of the night with my mates in Baldoyle, walking to the shop and saying hello to all the people I knew on the way whereas over there I was in digs, it was 100pc football all the time which was different from just training a few days a week. It was a lot to take in. I just didn't understand the professional side of football."


It is a testament to his raw ability and belated recognition of his responsibilities that he has stayed in a profession that has already chewed up so many of his childhood contemporaries. Whether it's at left-back, or left-wing, or the variety of positions that Brady has filled, it's abundantly clear that he will be a fixture in the Ireland side for the next decade.

He is one of the few nineties children in O'Neill's squad, a success story in a generation that has largely fallen by the wayside. What makes him proud is that the only other home-grown player in that age bracket is a lifelong football friend that he met while taking his baby steps at St Kevin's Boys. With a smile, he details his shared journey with Jeff Hendrick.

"It's amazing," beams Brady. "Since we've been six years old, myself and Jeff have played together with every team. With St Kevin's, with the DDSL, with the international sides. My first memory of Jeff? I remember him being light years ahead of anyone else in our team. He was always the best player from the early days at Kevin's."

When the Derby midfielder lifted the Aviva last month with a dazzling piece of skill that crafted Jon Walters' decisive goal against Georgia, Brady sensed that the patrons were stunned. He had an alternative perspective.

"It rolled back the years for me," he grins. "He's always been an unbelievable footballer and it was excellent to see him turn it on like that. I was buzzing, just because it showed to everyone else who hasn't seen that side of Jeff yet what he can do. It wasn't a shock to me."

That depth of feeling, a realisation of their long-held ambitions, perhaps explains why he has no interest in labouring on the loss of Jack Grealish. "I didn't care or pay too much attention to that," he shrugs. "It was out of my hands. I'm here and I can only concentrate on what I'm doing. Hopefully in the next few years we'll have a few more to add in."

He accepts that aspiration is easier said than done, conscious that the percentages are weighted against our exports.

"I was in a really good team, with a lot of good young lads heading away and I thought we were the next roll of players - that we'd all do it," he says, "But it doesn't work that way. It's lucky enough for me and Jeff that we were able to carry on.

"You see people, at all ages, leaving the game for different reasons every year and you count yourself lucky that things have gone the right way for you and you're still getting that opportunity."

Three years ago, he watched from the bench as a rampant German team tore a 'complacent' Ireland to shreds. Brady, who eventually came on as a late sub, marvelled at the brilliance of Marco Reus. He'd trained with good players at United and tasted Championship matches on loan at Hull but this was a front-row seat for the next level.

The senior players were hurting badly after a 6-1 drubbing. Brady was disappointed too, yet he confesses to being aware that he had to drink every aspect of the experience in and file it away for his own long-term benefit.

"An eye-opener," he admits. "Seeing how the older lads reacted, seeing how they were afterwards - it's not something I want to endure again. I took that from it. You can't allow big teams in Europe to do that to you; we've come a long way since then."

They were the last days of Giovanni Trapattoni, who blooded Brady as he was brave on the ball yet publicly questioned his defensive aptitude. He certainly didn't view the technically gifted set-piece maestro as a solution to the problems on the left side of the Irish rearguard, and neither did the player. That aspect of the evolution was unexpected.

Brady is in the firing line now, though, with a burden to carry. Changing employers tends to open eyes to the reality of the trade, especially as every change of circumstance must factor in the needs of his partner Kerrie and Halle.

"I still miss Dublin," he says. "But I enjoy living away now; I've learned a lot as a player and a person and I think about things in a different way. It's not just about me; it's about my family and what's best for us, so I've got to be careful with what I do.

"I went to Norwich and it's not just the football. It's the move to a new place, with new people, moving your family when they're settled, looking for a house. Once we got all that crap out of the way, it's been great. Wes (Hoolahan) helped me settle in, and it's a been a great start there."

From outside the tent, it appears likely that he'll one day consider 2015 a breakthrough year.

"A bit of a journey," he agrees. "I'm playing in the Premier League every week and for my country, which means everything to me, but I still feel like I've got more to offer. I know I can't keep saying that; I have to show it in my performances."

The visit of the world champions can represent the ideal starting point.

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