Fully fit Robbie Brady ready to write new chapter

Ireland’s Euro 2016 hero and free agent Robbie Brady is out to prove doubters wrong as he waits for the right move
Fully fit Robbie Brady ready to write new chapter

Republic of Ireland footballer Robbie Brady during a training session at the AUL Complex in Dublin. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Fuse a long, hot summer with European finals, and reminders of Robbie Brady abound.

Fans lamenting Ireland’s absence from the recent showpiece have merely memories of his late header downing Italy in Lille and penalty past Hugo Lloris a few days later to cling on to in their pining for past glories to be restored.

That both England and Scotland were playing in the tournament on last month’s fifth anniversary of him giving Leonardo Bonucci the slip only heightened the sense of longing.

For Brady himself, the historical footage becomes more visible and frequent whenever he returns to Dublin.

However, unlike the other heroes of Ireland’s major tournament tapestry — Houghton, Sheedy, Quinn, Duff, and Keane — his showreel isn’t complete. He refuses to be imprisoned by the past.

“I’m not great at watching football, but I enjoyed the Euros,” he admits.

“Of course, it does bring the mind back to France, but that tournament doesn’t define me. I’ve got plenty of time left in my career to create more memories.”

Not by design, this is Brady’s longest period in Ireland since he first packed his bags for Manchester United at 16. That was all of 13 years ago, and a familiar ritual followed every July for the first 12.

This summer’s pre-season has been like no other. He’s not clad in club attire nor housed within the confines of the architectural sculptures modern-day Premier League training grounds have become.

Work for the free agent is the deserted AUL complex near Dublin Airport, an expanse of open-plan pitches upon which he, Jeff Hendrick, and St Kevin’s Boys teams graced in their early teens.

Just the noise of traffic on the adjacent M1 motorway provides a backdrop to the instructions delivered by Damien Doyle.

It is only in the past week, as Covid-19 restrictions relax, that the aeroplane sounds Roy Keane derided when Ireland trained at the venue have returned overhead.

Doyle, Stephen Kenny’s fitness coach, has no problem with keeping Brady’s feet on the ground.

“Damien didn’t need to come here every day for the past three weeks, but he has,” emphasised the 29-year-old.

“Before I could think about joining a club, I needed to get myself fit and right, and Damien has been murdering me in this heat lately.

“I’ve had the same pre-
season as previous, just in a different setting, and I feel set for the next challenge.”

Tentative plans by Burnley to extend his stay were scuppered by an achilles injury he suffered at the end of March while playing for Ireland against Qatar.

Even before that setback, a new venture had consumed Brady’s thoughts. Four years after breaking their transfer record as a €15m recruit, a natural parting suited him. Sympathy from the supporters he brought tears of joy to in 2016 isn’t necessary.

“I know how it works,” he admits. “It was coming to the stage that I wanted to play more football.

“Lots of players are in the same boat right now. This is a new situation for me, but I’m excited rather than worried.

“Following the Euros, the market has been slow, and clubs haven’t finalised their squads.

“I’ve a few offers, but I’ll take my time in coming to the right decision. Things can change very quickly; like it did for Andros Townsend, who joined Everton last week.”

Almost four years have passed since Brady’s last surgery, when his patella tendon ruptured in an accidental challenge with old Hull City team-mate, Harry Maguire.

That hasn’t prevented a series of other niggles, some the shrapnel from his operation and others entirely unrelated.

At one point last year, after cracking ribs on the opposite side he’d broken them in a previous incident, Brady considered visiting a bone specialist before coming to his senses.

“The mind plays tricks on you,” he reasons.

Then the achilles trouble arrived. Circumstances dictated his approach.

“The pain in my heel first started in January after I kicked the ground in an FA Cup game against MK Dons,” he said.

“It was irritating, but when the scan showed a nick rather than a rupture, I kept playing without being 100%.

“Burnley were fighting relegation, we had the World Cup qualifiers coming up in March, so despite the warning sign, I was desperate to play. And I was involved in helping us get some good results.”

Indeed, Brady’s final involvement for the Clarets was in the 1-1 draw against Arsenal and 2-1 win at Everton.

He started 12 Premier League games, his best return in three seasons; all the more pertinent given he’d only made one by mid-October and was sidelined for the last nine owing to his misfortune on international duty.

Comparatively, only Hendrick and Callum Robinson amassed more top-flight appearances among the midfielders and attackers available to Kenny.

Brady will nevertheless need to choose his next venture wisely, somewhere with scope to swell those dozen starts, for Ireland’s No 10 to recapture his status as first-choice for his country.

“There can be a perception,” he notes about ridding the injury-prone tag.

“People probably don’t realise that I was available for 80% of Burnley’s matches last season, the average for most players, up to the injury in March.

“I had four-and-a-half great years at Burnley, qualifying for Europe for the first time in 50 years, but last season there wasn’t much change in the team.

“That was to generate a rhythm, but meant it was difficult getting back in if you missed a match.”

Aside from a six-month spell in the Championship with Norwich, ironically straight after coming of age at the Euros, Brady has been a Premier League constant for eight years. There he wishes to remain, albeit alternatives carrying springboards to that platform won’t be dismissed.

Interest from European suitors and beyond have been registered too, though the prospect of uprooting his wife Kerrie and their children, Halle (7) and Louis (2), forms part of the criteria.

“I’ve proved what I can do at Premier League level, and believe I can more than hold my own there,” he asserts.

“When you finish a season with an injury, clubs wonder if you’re fit. But once the resting of my achilles was completed, then underwent my rehab by swimming and cycling, I was back on the pitch at the start of July preparing for the season as I would do at a club.

“I’m all clear of injuries and fit enough to play matches. That’s all I’m missing.”

This was the reason cited by Mick McCarthy and Kenny in deploying Brady as an impact substitute for the start of the last few international campaigns. In Slovakia and Serbia, when Ireland needed a game-changer, he was called upon from the bench.

With the September triple-header, including Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, looming, they require a campaign-changer.

“I understand that Ireland managers want players coming into camp on a run of club games,” Brady acknowledges.

“That’s my aim from this next move.

“We know it will be difficult to qualify from where we are in the group, but it’s a short career and the dream is to play at the World Cup. I think we’ve been playing well, but have to start scoring.”

Fitter in mind and body, Brady will be ready to provide the cure if called upon in Faro.

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