Two of Ireland’s favourites, for Reds growing up in Dublin in the 1990’s, were unsurprisingly Denis Irwin and Roy Keane. Not only was the pair two of the best in the Republic of Ireland team, they were two of the finest for one of Ireland’s favourite clubs, Manchester United. For many, Irwin was the best left-back ever seen in a United shirt. His sharp tackling, marauding runs, and cannon of a right-foot made the Cork-born player a complete defender. Meanwhile, Keane’s sheer bloody-mindedness, leadership, and talent made the player one of the best midfielders of his generation.
Yet, since the pair left Old Trafford there hasn’t been a great Irish player in the United team. True, John O’Shea, a very competent player for whom many were sad to see go, spent a decade in Manchester. But O’Shea never reached the level of his predecessors; a great player for Ireland, but not for United. There were other Irishmen who passed through, but never quite made it, such as Paul McShane, Liam Miller, and Darron Gibson.
But now there’s a player tipped for huge things at Old Trafford – a new Irish hope – 19-year-old Dubliner Robbie Brady. Described by Kevin Keegan as a player who “has everything,” and currently turning heads on loan at Hull City in the Championship, Brady joined the United Academy in 2008, having already representing Ireland at U-17 level. Up to 15 Premier League clubs were after the 16-year-old Brady at the time.
Brady, a left sided midfielder, was inevitably hailed as the “new Ryan Giggs” when United signed him. At this club, there is no higher praise for a young player. And it didn’t take long for the youngster to make a mark in the youth set-up, impressing in the 2009 Milk Cup in Northern Ireland as United won the Premier section. Brady has also shone for United’s academy side with bursting runs down the flank, high quality crossing, and a deft finish or two, which even earned the player a stint as Academy captain.
Like many younger players learning their trade at Old Trafford, Brady was sent out on loan for seasoning. In the Championship, Brady has been seen by a wider audience, and has stepped his game up accordingly, impressing many. ESPN’s Keegan and Robbie Savage are two pundits who have been lauding the young Irishman’s efforts, tipping him as one of the brightest stars at Championship level.
Brady made a bright start to his Hull career, scoring a fine goal against Liverpool in the Tigers’ 3-0 win in a pre-season friendly. The Dubliner has continued to impress in his early Championship games for Hull, even netting a winning goal against Reading in his fifth competitve game. Making 16 appearances to date, starting 15 of them, Brady has featured in all of Hull’s games so far this season. He has also registered a staggering 34 shots so far, although just the one has beat the ‘keeper to date.
However, Brady has suffered a slight dip in form recently, with then manager Nigel Pearson citing fatigue as the reason, reminding us that Brady is still only 19, and this is his first full season of football. Brady’s stamina and fitness will need to improve, and have been a slight concern going back to the reserves under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who said “we’ve just got to work on his fitness and, if we can get him super fit, then he’ll be a very, very good player.” Encouraging words, and at a club such as United, there are the facilities to fix the problem.
The rigors of top flight football are much more demanding than the reserves of course, but these are standard growing pains for a young ‘up-and-comer’. Fitness is unlikely to hamstring Brady less as he acclimates to the Championship. Indeed, after a short rest the player’s performance for the Irish under-21s recently showed that he’s still just as talented as hoped.
Should Brady continue his rapid progress there is no limit to where the youngster could go – a place in Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team squad is not out of the question next season. If not, a loan to a Premier League club is inevitable as the player looks to step up a level.
Brady has also risen through the Irish youth ranks, scoring plenty of goals along the way. Now at under-21 level, Brady has scored five goals in as many games, two of which came in the recent 2-1 friendly win over Lichtenstein. As a stand-out player at age-group level, Brady is being widely tipped to become one of the finest Irish players of his generation. He’ll soon get a chance to shine with the full national side too.
Moreover, Brady has the raw talent to make it as a United player: a swift, attack-minded, confident, skilful winger, with clever feet and a footballing brain fits into the United mould. And while many United supporters are justifyably excited about Ravel Morrison, Paul Pogba and Ryan Tunnicliffe, many over the Irish sea will be keeping a special eye on Brady’s progress.
For Dublin-based Reds, he is the great Irish hope.
Robbie Brady factfile
Born 14 January 1992, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
1998–2008, St Kevin’s Boys
2008-2011, Manchester United (academy)
2011-, Hull City, 16 appearances, 1 goal
2005–2008, Republic of Ireland U17, 5 appearances
2008–2010, Republic of Ireland U19, 5 appearances, 2 goals
2010–, Republic of Ireland U21, 5 appearances, 5 goals