Comment: Robbie Brady's scintillating form for Burnley has come a little too late
The timing could have been just perfect.
Just 48 hours before the draw for the World Cup finals, Robbie Brady scores a stunning goal to help his club side, containing three players from the northside of Dublin, earn the win which lifts them into the top six of the Premier League.
Around the same time, Séamus Coleman announces that his return after a long spell out with a broken leg is “weeks away” and Jon Walters is also on the comeback trail.
But of course, it means nothing in international terms as the FAI will not be represented at the World Cup draw in Moscow today.
And the great pity is that Brady is showing, in the claret shirt of Burnley, the sort of form which was missing in his recent outings in the green jersey of Ireland.
It was his first Premier League goal of the season and, excluding the League Cup, his first goal for club or country in 33 games.
“I have been waiting long enough, so I’m just happy to get off the mark and hopefully in the weeks to come I can add a few more,” Brady said after scoring in the win away to Bournemouth, his club now genuine contenders for a European place next season.
“It was a fantastic performance from the lads and we will keep marching on. We are moving in the right direction.
“We are capable of putting points on the board and if we keep performing the way we are we can put plenty more on, so long may it continue.
“It’s instilled into us from everything we do through the week, so to go out and perform like we have been is fantastic for the lads, the staff and everybody involved,” Brady told the Burnley website.
International matters are off the agenda for now, as Brady and his Ireland team-mates can only look on with envy when the World Cup draw is made today. It’s more likely that they will just turn off the TV and try to stay away from the draw completely, to keep away thoughts of ‘what if?’ should Denmark get a handy draw.
Ireland’s failure against Denmark can in no way be placed on the shoulders of Brady. If this Ireland team is to go on and qualify in 2020 or 2022, Brady and Jeff Hendrick can, and probably will, play a big role and the pair showed in France last year what they are capable of.
But Brady struggled for much of the campaign to reach those heights.
Suspensions didn’t help, especially as both Martin O’Neill (left) and Roy Keane were publicly critical of Brady for picking up needless bookings.
“Robbie got a card for kicking the ball away, that’s where it’s a bit silly. It goes back to trusting the players. If a player kicks the ball away, he deserves to be suspended,” Keane said before the Denmark games.
O’Neill has time to reflect on the final games of the World Cup bid and wonder why Brady, in particular, a player with so much ability, was so ineffective.
Maybe the formations against Denmark were wrong, perhaps the instructions from the sideline were muddled, or perhaps Brady was weighted down by the expectation of a nation.
Maybe Brady needs more guidance from the Ireland boss. Or maybe the national team manager needs a player who turns 26 next month to take on more responsibility.
Something needs to be done to transplant Brady’s form with a club riding high in the Premier League onto the national team.
O’Neill had an ageing squad (11 of the 23-man squad for the Denmark matches were over 30), so the challenge for O’Neill is to inject some fresh blood.
Seán Maguire (23), Alan Browne (22), Matt Doherty (25) and John Egan (25) will all come into the frame, having previously made it into the squad.
Enda Stevens, in good form with a promotion-chasing Sheffield United side but uncapped at senior level, hopes to become a late bloomer as he will have turned 28 by the time the Nations League games start next year.
There are some positive signs. Liam Kelly (22) is enjoying a very good spell with Reading and Eunan O’Kane (27) has won back his place in a Leeds side aiming for promotion.
The European landmass is unlikely to feed players into the Ireland squad – since 2000, only five players have been capped at senior level while playing for a ‘European’ club (Aiden McGeady, Darren O’Dea, Steve Finnan, Ian Harte and David Connolly).
We currently have two eligible players playing for clubs in eastern Europe (Cillian Sheridan in Poland and Conor Henderson in Bulgaria) and a potential recruit (Danny Crowley) lining out in the Dutch top flight, though none of that trio are ‘tearing up trees’.
O’Neill’s preference is for players to play their club football in England (which is why SPL players struggle to catch his eye) so a 26-year-old in the Bulgarian league is hardly likely to interest him.
Instead, a weekly trawl of the grounds in the Championship will occupy his mind in the months to come, with Alan Judge’s imminent return from a long-term injury another intriguing option.
But O’Neill will also need to allot some time to sit down with his current squad and find a way to rediscover the form that’s been missing.