Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady to spearhead Ireland’s attack
Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady completed a journey from a Dublin boys' club to the pinnacle of European football when they ran out for Ireland against Sweden.
The pair first met as six-year-olds at St Kevin's Boys and have risen through the ranks together, and it was perhaps fitting that they played the biggest game of their respective careers to date side-by-side at the Stade de France in Monday evening's 1-1 Group E draw.
They will hope to repeat the feat when Ireland face Belgium in Bordeaux on Saturday afternoon, but they know what they have already achieved is noteworthy.
Brady said: "I think we were about six or seven years old at our club, St Kevin's Boys back home in Dublin. Jeff came in at that stage and we have gone on from there.
"We have played in every team possible from then on, international level and all the way up to senior. It's not every day something like that happens, so with Jeff a good mate of mine, to be able to play on the big stage with him was excellent."
Brady admitted excitement grew as Ireland edged themselves closer to qualification with their joint career paths never far from their minds.
He said: "It's been incredible. It's a long road and we have been lucky enough to do it together. We were speaking about it throughout the group stage.
"We were picking up late results and it looked like we were giving ourselves a chance in the group stage, and I just spoke to Jeff about it and said how big a deal it would be if we managed to get here.
"To play together on the big stage was unbelievable. It was a great moment for the both of us."
Off the field, the pair remain close friends, although they have had to get used to slightly different domestic arrangements over the last week or so.
Hendrick said: "We have roomed together every trip except for this, when we have had our own. The first day we came in, it was a bit different. We were used to being in the room having a chat.
"We grew up close enough to each other, so we know a lot of the same people as well. We have a lot to talk about, so not rooming together now was a bit different.
"But he [Brady] still wanders in, uses the toothpaste and all."
Hendrick, who is being closely monitored by a series of Barclays Premier League clubs, was the star of the show for Ireland against the Swedes, and the progress he has made under the watchful eye of assistant manager Roy Keane over the last 18 months has been impressive.
He said: "Especially in the first game I played, he [Keane] gave me a lot of advice of positionally where he thinks I could improve and I try to take it on board.
"Then every other game, if he sees anything, I like it when he tells me what I need to do better or if I have done something good because I am still trying to learn and he has done a lot in the game."