It’s been a week of hotshots and superlatives to add to the store of good things in Irish football in 2016.
And, wouldn’t you know it, but when time comes to review the highlights reel at end of year, the common denominator will be a man called Robbie.
There was young master Brady getting the ball rolling in Lille back in June, scoring the header that kept Ireland’s Euros campaign alive in that soul-stirring late win over Italy.
And, of course, he was at it again, but this time early doors, in the next game against the hosts in Lyon, smacking home the second-minute penalty which, for the guts of an hour, had the Green Army in dreamland and the team on the brink of the quarter-finals — until spoilsport Antoine Griezmann struck on the double and Shane Duffy saw red.
Moving swiftly along (he quipped good-naturedly), there was a comparable seesaw of ecstasy and agony for the rather smaller, but no less passionate, travelling support in Warsaw on Tuesday night, as Dundalk threatened to outdo even themselves by fashioning what would have been, beyond any dispute, the greatest result in the history of Irish club football.
And once again, a Robbie was central to the drama.
In the previous Champions League round, Robbie Benson had already made his mark on the football year by coming off the bench to score the third, decisive goal in Dundalk’s 3-0 dismissal of BATE Borisov on that unforgettable night in Tallaght.
But on the from the start against Legia Warsaw, he garnered world attention for what he did in the 20th minute, as he ran onto a high, dropping header from David McMillan and didn’t even break stride before thundering an unstoppable volley into the roof of the net.
It’s worth going online to check out the magnificently partisan reaction of commentator Adrian Taffe on LMFM, his voice hitting a high-pitched squeal which, better than any intelligible words, conveyed what it all meant to those who were emotionally involved.
But even the scrupulously neutral were brought to their feet by this one, Gary Lineker tweeting his admiration and the Guardian newspaper picking Benson’s screamer as one of their goals of the week, up there keeping company with, among others, Neymar’s exquisite free-kick for Brazil in the Olympics final and a Lionel Messi effort, whipped in with power and pace from the edge of the ‘D’, as Barcelona beat Real Betis.
Sadly, Benson’s belter is destined to be remembered as one moment in time, rather than as the goal which helped Dundalk make history, the Lilywhites thereafter lacking the cutting edge to force the tie into extra-time before, for the second game in succession against Legia, they suffered the death blow of a goal conceded in time added-on.
‘Brave’ has been a word much used to describe Dundalk’s Champions League run but, while not entirely inappropriate, I think it fails to do justice to how classy and composed the Irish champions have been in their quest to reach the top table.
Their style was acknowledged by Legia’s Aleksandar Prijovic when, in what you would have to call a back-handed compliment for an Irish football team, he said: “They play nice football — we were expecting long balls, but it was pleasantly surprising to see just how well they play.”
And while, unfortunately, yesterday’s Europa League draw didn’t deliver the glamour name Dundalk’s efforts thus far have deserved, the prospect of six more games in Europe — assuming they don’t exact too punishing a physical and mental toll — will give Stephen Kenny’s side more opportunities, against testing opposition, to show that they are at this level on merit and aren’t here just to make up the numbers.
Before all that, the Robbie who is the original of the species will take centre-stage for the last time at the Aviva on Wednesday for what has now become a friendly with a difference.
And if, on the night, he can sign off with the goal that would bring him level with the great Gerd Muller in the all-time scoring stakes — or, better still, the brace that would take him past ‘Der Bomber’ to 69 — then it’s a friendly which will have its own firm purchase on history.
But, whatever happens, the last sighting of ol’ Keane goal in the green shirt is unlikely to leave a dry eye in the house.
I read the news today, Oman…
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