EURO 2016

Ireland's glory, glory night in Lille as Italy are beaten

EURO 2016By Kevin Palmer
Brady etched himself a place in Irish soccer folklore
Brady etched himself a place in Irish soccer folklore

To the elite list that started with Ray Houghton, continued with Kevin Sheedy and Niall Quinn and added Robbie Keane to its roster in 2002, we now add the name of Robbie Brady after a night of historic significance for Ireland in Lille.

As Brady’s dramatic late goal sealed a 1-0 win against Italy to secure our place in the last-16 of Euro 2016, the tears flowed inside a Irish dominated stadium in Lille and among more than a few of us with Irish hearts.

Ireland's major tournament goal scorers are a limited club of special players and with his thrillingly timed header in Lille, Brady offered up a moment to cherish for generations to come.

This was a night to remember, one of those rare moments where the boys in green (or white shirts on this occasion) defied the odds to produce a victory that seemed unfathomable before kick-off and was entirely merited by the end.

On a night when manager Martin O'Neill ringed the changes in his team and picked a line-up that few predicted, his team responded in the grand manner with a display that lifted the hearts of a nation.

Let's get carried away for a moment, let's toast this great victory as one of our finest. This was history in the making and all of us who witnessed it will never forget it.

On a glorious night under the roof at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille, a first win at the Euros since they beat England in 1988 and a first at a major tournament since they saw off Saudi Arabia at the 2002 World Cup finals wrote a new chapter in Irish football history to the clear delight of management duo Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane.

Both men had urged their players not to die wondering in the run-up to a game they knew they simply had to win if they were to get out of the group and having shuffled the pack to add brawn in the shape of central defenders Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh and striker Daryl Murphy and the pace of winger McClean, their intention was clear.

For all an Italy side featuring eight changes from the one which started against Sweden at the weekend looked confident in possession, it was the Republic who made most of the running, and the fact that they did not return to the dressing room at half-time with a lead was something of a travesty.

Midfielder Jeff Hendrick, back to the kind of form which saw him terrorise Sweden earlier in the competition, came within inches of the opening goal with a rising ninth-minute piledriver which flew inches wide.

Murphy went just as close 12 minutes later when he met Brady's corner with a powerful header which goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu tipped over, and Duffy headed wide at the back post from another Brady cross with striker Shane Long perhaps better placed behind him.

The game thundered towards the interval at break-neck speed and Ireland keeper Darren Randolph, who did not have a first-half save to make, would have done had Ciro Immobile's 43rd-minute snapshot been a foot closer to his right-hand post.

But the half ended in controversy when McClean appeared to be barged to the ground inside the penalty area by Bernardeschi, only to see Mr Hategan wave away his appeals.

Fuelled further by a sense of injustice, Ireland returned knowing time was running out fast and with O'Neill kicking every ball on the touchline, the tension mounted as the minutes ticked away.

They knew they had to throw everything they had at Italy and they were always likely to leave space in behind as they pressed, and they were served with a 53rd-minute warning when striker Simone Zaza volleyed just over from Mattia de Sciglio's left-wing cross.

But Ireland were relentless in their pursuit of the goal they craved and skipper Seamus Coleman was unfortunate to see his goal-bound 57th-minute effort catch defender Angelo Ogbonna's heel and run safe.

Hendrick dragged a 63rd-minute effort harmlessly wide after being set up by Murphy and Duffy scuffed another off target from all of 35 yards as the bodies and minds started to tire.

Their chance looked to have gone when substitute Wes Hoolahan passed up a chance to give them the lead with six minutes remaining, shooting straight at Sirigu when clean through on goal.

But he made amends within seconds when he teased the ball over the top of the Italian defence and Brady got their before Sirigu and headed past him to spark delirious celebrations.

What a night and now we can all head to Lyon for a last-16 game against France on Sunday. 

Ole, ole, ole.