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Monday 25 September 2017

FA Cup still makes Brady dream of glory days

Liam Brady during his playing days at Arsenal
Liam Brady during his playing days at Arsenal

Every year, Ireland's relationship with the FA Cup final becomes more and more detached. As the significance of the competition wanes, our memories of it reach further and further back.

Those of a certain age will mark Leeds defeat by Sunderland in 1973 as a moment of contact with this great event while others still see the tousle-haired image of Chippy Brady, weaving magic around Wembley against Manchester United in 1979, in their mind's eye.

Brady featured in three consecutive FA Cup finals, part of a team managed by Terry Neill which was richly talented but never really delivered.

It would take George Graham's iron discipline to transform the club and deliver the first First Diviison title in almost 20 years in 1988/89 but while fans were waiting for that, the Cup was a big, big deal.

The Irish influence at Highbury then was huge.

Recruitment

The club's recruitment across the island of Ireland hit a seam of gold. They had Pat Jennings between the posts and Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson in defence alongside Dublin's Dave O'Leary.

They also found Frank Stapleton in Dublin and the greatest discovery of all, twinkle-toed Liamo, Ireland's great hope.

Like all former professional footballers now looking at their careers in the rear view mirror, Brady has reverence for the FA Cup which is not as easy to find in today's generation and regrets that it no longer gets the respect it deserves.

It's a theme we hear every year and will do until a point is reached where the competition is reduced to the same standing as the League Cup.

"It's not got the same meaning as it used to have. To win a Cup in my day, you would be remembered forever. The fans would remember a cup-winning team," said Brady.

"I think Newcastle, the last time they won a Cup was in the '50s and they still talk about that team. Now, I don't think the Cup has that importance anymore."

However, Brady sees today's final as a throwback to some of the great days when big teams played for a big prize.

Circumstances, particularly the pressure on Arsene Wenger, have conspired to invest this final with extra importance.

He said: "Today, it will be important. Chelsea will want to do the double, which would be a tremendous feat. That alone will make it huge.

"Arsenal, if we win, the season won't look as bad as it does now - if we can win it. Wenger will become the manager that has won the Cup the most times ever.

"Arsenal will become the club which has won the Cup the most times ever so it's a huge match in that respect."

Brady's own FA Cup archive is pretty full but most of the memorable moments for him come from the 1979 final because of two low-key defeats, one by Ipswich and the other by then Second Division West Ham, which bracketed that remarkable last-gasp victory over Manchester United.

He said: "I wanted to forget '78 and '80 and remember '79. If you were asking me to pick my most memorable games, that would be one of them. That and making my debut for Ireland in '74 against the Soviet Union and maybe winning the title with Juventus in my first year."

Brady almost didn't make it to Arsenal. He was tracked by Billy Behan and as a Manchester United fan, the legendary scout thought he had his man in the bag.

"I nearly went to Manchester United as a kid. The reason I didn't go was because Arsenal got in before them. The scout here in Ireland was a guy called Billy Behan. Because I was a Manchester United fan, he thought I was nailed on.

"Then I went to London and Arsenal liked me and they looked after me. Manchester United actually offered my mother a washing machine for me to go there," he laughed.

"But my mind was made up and a washing machine wasn't going to change it," he said, revealing that his mother at least made the attempt.

"She actually did. Now a kid gets a house and a car and his father gets a job for life."

If you haven't ever seen Brady's performance in that 1980 final, do yourself a favour and go find it on Youtube. He was magnificent.

"That was a great moment for the team because so many of us on the pitch that day had grown up at the club," he said.

"If you take Sammy Nelson, Pat Rice, Dave O'Leary, Graham Rix, David Price, Frank Stapleton and myself - that's seven players in that Cup final who were home-grown, having all come through the system at Arsenal.

"Which, when you think about it, is just another measure of how radically the game in England has changed over the years," he said.

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