Republic of Ireland goal hero Robbie Brady described tonight’s historic victory over Italy as a dream come true and “the best feeling in the world”, writes Ciaran Gallagher.
Brady’s 85th-minute header sealed Ireland’s place in the knockout stages of the European Championship for the first time ever and booked a last-16 clash with hosts France in Lyon on Sunday.
“What a moment for everyone involved. We said we were going to do a job for everyone that came out here today and we did it. We made history, we’re into the next 16 and we go again,” said Brady after the 1-0 win.
“It really is [a great night], I just look around and have a look at what it means to everybody, me included. I grew up waiting to play on this stage, dreaming about it. To go and do it in front of my family is the best feeling in the world,” added the Dubliner.
Despite enjoying over 50 per cent of possession throughout the second half, Ireland’s hopes looked dashed when Wes Hoolahan failed to take advantage of a one on one with Italian keeper Salvatore Sirigu with just seven minutes remaining.
Substitute Hoolahan made amends moments later, however, when he delivered a pinpoint cross for Brady to head Ireland into the last 16.
“My body sort of carried my legs into the box and I was just trusting Wes to put it where I wanted it and I managed to get my head on it,” recalled Brady on his goal. “I’m lost for words really, I’m over the moon and emotional. It’s unbelievable.”
Ireland had two credible claims for a penalty just before half-time with Darryl Murphy manhandled in the Italian box before James McClean was knocked off his feet just before half-time.
Manager Martin O’Neill made some big pre-match calls, dropping four players - John O'Shea, Ciaran Clark, Glenn Whelan and Wes Hoolahan – and opting to go with a new central defensive partnership in the form of Richard Keogh and starting debutant Shane Duffy.
O’Neill’s side put in a heroic and exhausting effort throughout and managed to bag the win despite Italian substitute Lorenzo Insigne putting Irish hearts in mouths minutes before the decisive goal when his strike hit Darren Randolph’s goal post.
“[It took] every bit of effort and hard work and determination. Every single one of the lads was unbelievable tonight. I don’t know what to say - my head’s not really working,” said a delighted but exhausted Brady, speaking to RTÉ.
“We roll on against France in Lyon. We need to regroup and go again, but what a fantastic night. I’m flabbergasted,” he added.