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How Robbie Brady’s triumphant Ireland return will keep the wolves from Stephen Kenny’s door for a while

Robbie Brady’s penalty rescued the Ireland boss on a chaotic night in Dublin 4

Robbie Brady celebrates with team doctor Alan Byrne after the UEFA Nations League B Group 1 win over Armenia at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Dara O'Shea of Republic of Ireland has a shot on goal which resulted in a handball and a penalty for the Republic of Ireland,© SPORTSFILE


Six years have torpedoed by at the velocity of a TGV bullet train surging out of Gare-de-Lyon since his French adventure took Robbie Brady to the apex of football achievement.

Here he rescued Stephen Kenny from the kind of high-speed locomotive wreckage even the Irish manager’s abundant and vocal cheerleaders could hardly have defended.

Brady’s penalty decommissioned a landmine that was primed to detonate around Kenny.

Mercifully, Paschal Donohoe was not required to issue a Budget Day energy credit covering the utility bills of those defiantly upbeat commentators who insist upon bathing even Project Kenny’s darkest nights in a zillion watts of positivity.

Such a move would bankrupt Ireland Inc quicker than any revisiting of Gay Mitchell’s plans for a Dublin Olympics.

Some 30 months of listening to Kenny’s devotees ignoring any number of catastrophic results while forecasting an imminent Eureka moment, one that will turn the key in the lock of hope, brings a Bono chorus to mind.

How long to sing this song?

After this near calamity, a rabbit-in-the-headlights disaster averted and rescued only by Brady’s left-boot and a helping hand from VAR, surely not for much longer.

Here was a chaotic night that – following similar nights of underachievement against Luxembourg and, of course, the midsummer calamity in Yerevan – reignites a debate Kenny might have believed behind him.

Even the most partisan of his cheerleaders must now surely decommission their pompoms for a little while and pose some interrogating questions.

Kenny has been in his job for longer than 13 of the current Premier League managers.

A 14th, Tomas Tuchel, was appointed nearly a year after the FAI turned to Kenny, won a Champions League within six months, and was still out the door after a few poor results.

The intention is not to compare a global force such as Chelsea with the Irish national team, but to underline a global truth about professional sport: It is a performance business.

By that simple metric, Kenny finds himself on shaky ground.

The ceaseless propaganda that seeks to portray some modest stylistic improvements, an aesthetic and cultural revolution found itself flying down a lightless cul de sac here.

Ireland, in total control after John Egan and Michael Obafemi strikes, switched-off, went missing-in-action, and came within seconds of gifting victory to no-hope opposition.

An honest audit of this group is at odds with the upbeat viewpoint of much of the prevailing analysis.

When does this never-ending promise of a better tomorrow, one Kenny himself likes to play on a continuous loop, start to sound like an increasingly desperate attempt to buy time?

It represents kicking the can for a series of failures - and Ireland’s Nations League campaign can be described in no other terms if we are to take Kenny’s pre-tournament statements at face value – unto tomorrow’s road.

Remember the manager insisted in a pre-tournament trumpet blast that Ireland could win this group.

Instead, the campaign has been bookended by desperate performances against one of the continent’s most impoverished and threadbare football nations.

Armenia are ranked outside the world’s top 90, their many inadequacies highlighted in losing their quartet of non-Irish group games on a 14-1 aggregate.

Yet, but for a penalty that was certainly as marginal as the Scottish one that so infuriated Kenny at the weekend, they would have left Dublin with a share of the points.

At least Kenny kept his head as so many about him were losing theirs.

The shining poster boy of Ireland’s Euro 2016 summer, the fertile vineyard of his imagination combining exquisitely with the sunshine of his personality to make the deepest connection with a national audience.

During those dreamy Gallic days, the Dubliner – a talent of sufficient promise to endure for five years at Fergie-era Manchester United - seemed to be operating on a different level of insight and creativity.

Few could have imagined, as he hit an immortal high note with a goal against Italy that made the Lille earth shake, that a precipitous career tailspin lay just around the corner.

Injury, loss of form, the dismal cards that fate can deal a professional athlete, engulfed his peak years.

Brady started just two club games last season and arrived at whole new universe of bleakness when he spent much of the summer without a club: An unemployed footballer at 30.

A contract with Preston offered the chance to take the first baby Lazarus steps on the road back to life as a living, breathing athlete.

Brady seized the opportunity to turn the key in the lock of hope.

If, back in the giddy summer of 2016, he seemed destined for higher ground than a mid-table Championship fare, ten straight appearances at Preston have applied jump-leads to the stalled engine of his international career.

After the briefest weekend cameo in Glasgow, Stephen Kenny offered Brady the warm glow of international renewal.

Replacing James McClean at left wing back, here was his first international start in 678 days.

Brady didn’t merely return to the Aviva; he invaded the night.

And kept the wolves from Stephen Kenny’s door for a little while longer.

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