Robbie Brady’s goal the high point of night frozen in time
Sports review of 2016: Goal brings a wide outpouring of joy and relief
It is an extraordinary image - a hint of Caravaggio meets COYBIG - as friends, family and fans, most of them utterly lost in the moment look on from close quarters while the pair kiss. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille, June 22nd
Republic of Ireland 1 Italy 0
You could make a case for the win away to Austria but anyone lucky enough to be in Lille when Robbie Brady’s goal went in and Ireland beat Italy must surely regard it as this Ireland side’s moment of 2016.
Yeah, yeah, “the Italians weren’t trying” . . . the truth is that it really doesn’t matter very much if they were or not. It is tournament football and Ireland did what they had to do that evening. Most pleasing, was that they did it in such style.
In the clammy heat of the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, the game was good, the goal sweet and the chaotic celebration that followed sweaty. In case you were too busy doing your own thing during those critical few seconds, EPA’s Laurent Dubrule was on hand to capture that remarkably tender moment amid the mayhem between Brady and his girlfriend Kerrie Harris. It is an extraordinary image - a hint of Caravaggio meets COYBIG - as friends, family and fans, most of them utterly lost in the moment look on from close quarters while the pair kiss.
The wider outpouring of joy was all the greater because of the relief that the goal brought. Ireland played well, getting onto the front foot in a way that almost everyone had liked to imagine they might some day but only the faithful few really believed they actually would. Even they were probably resigned to this not being their night when they saw that Wes Hoolahan had been omitted from the starting line up but Martin O’Neill seemed to call it all well with James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick and James McClean amongst those to stand out in a reshaped side that had been sent out to take the game to their opponents.
What followed was not one way traffic but Ireland were the better side and though there were one or two moments when the entire enterprise almost came crashing back to earth, most memorably when Lorenzo Insigne hit the post, O’Neill’s men clearly deserved the win that took them into the tournament’s knockout stages.
Low Light: On balance, Bordeaux a few days earlier had actually been more craic despite all that rain the night before and trouble with trams on the day. The difference there, of course, was the result and there was no suspense really involved in this one; within minutes of the kick-out it became clear that the Belgians meant business. Afterwards, the supporters could console themselves for a day or two with the notion that Marc Wilmots’ side might win the tournament but when Wales then beat them rather well, the scale of Ireland’s defeat somehow seemed greater than ever.