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Thursday 25 May 2017

Hats off to Hoolahan's year of joy

Wes Hoolahan celebrates his Euro 2016 goal against Sweden with Norwich team-mate Robbie Brady
Wes Hoolahan celebrates his Euro 2016 goal against Sweden with Norwich team-mate Robbie Brady

It's been some year for Irish sport. To find a favourite, take out a pin and stick it in the list of the best and brightest from 12 months packed with every different variety of home-grown sporting magnificence.

For football fans, it was spectacular and the performer of the year is more than likely one of three - Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick or Wes Hoolahan - for what they did on the pitch or a fourth, Seamus Coleman for his remarkable transformation into Captain Marvel.

There's a big case to be made for Dundalk as team of the year and Stephen Kenny has already held off the two O'Neill's, Martin and Michael, to win the manager of the year award.

But for me, the man who stood out and continues to shine wearing a green shirt is Hoolahan, a little man with a massive heart and an instinct for the game beyond all of his Irish peers.

Heart

Take a snapshot of each moment of joy this year, during the Euros and in the months of Autumn and Hoolahan is right there in the middle of it.

His goal against Sweden, created by some tasty footwork and a clever cut-back cross from Coleman, was taken with his right foot on the half-volley and made everyone believe again,

That's all it took for Ireland to fall in love with the team which unites everyone across all sports. A moment of sure bliss from Wessi and Euro 2016 was off and running.

What was Giovanni Trapattoni thinking watching in his local in Cusano Milanino when Hoolahan missed a sitter and then dropped the ball onto Brady's head for the winner against Italy?

The player he resolutely refused to consider in any serious way was the reason Ireland made it into the Euro 2016 finals and when they got there, he was the reason O'Neill took his team to Lyon to play France.

Proud

Trapattoni will probably tell his pals that he discovered Hoolahan and pat himself on the back as only he can do.

We know the real story and it can only be wondered what might have been had fate delivered a different manager than the Italian, one who valued a playmaker like Hoolahan.

Robbie Brady was another Trapattoni didn't fancy. Nobody could deny the part he played in the year's entertainment.

Hendrick too can be proud of his performances in France and his progress into the Premier League but both are behind Coleman who has gathered mental strength by the truckload since O'Neill gave him the armband in Versailles.

Coleman has definitely finished the year strongest. O'Neill used the word 'possessed' to describe the switch he has made from quiet lad to a bubbling ball of motivation and commitment.

But if the judgement is being made on the whole year, Hoolahan brought the greatest pleasure, finishing with that slippery little through ball he played for James McClean to carve open Austria and send Ireland top of the group.

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