Friday 21 October 2016

Lyon would be perfect home for Irish pair

A smiling Jeff Hendrick as the Republic of Ireland team arrive back in Dublin. Pic: Sportsfile
A smiling Jeff Hendrick as the Republic of Ireland team arrive back in Dublin. Pic: Sportsfile
Robbie Brady made a name for himself on the big stage in France. Pic: Sportsfile

They may have spent three nights in the place last week, but the Ireland players will have seen little of Lyon, bar the controlled environments of team hotel and match stadium.

It's a pity as Lyon is a city which seems to thrive on energy at the best of times but even more so when there's a match on - this is a football town, make no mistake, and they will host Champions League football there again next season.

If the likes Jeff Hendrick or Robbie Brady had been able to walk around the city, get a sense for the place, maybe they'd have wondered just what it would be like to play there every week, and play in those big European nights.

As things stand, Brady and Hendrick will be playing in England's second tier next season. It would be a travesty if they did end up with a season of Championship football, as both men have proved - on the big European stage - that they should be playing at a high level.


Given their enhanced stature after the Euros, it's hard to see them staying at their current clubs: these boys should be lining out against Bayern Munich or Barcelona next season, not Burton Albion and Barnsley.

We've already had reports of Hendrick being linked with moves, to a number of Premier League clubs (but then again, the paper which ran that story also called the Coolock lad 'Will Hendrick' so we'll take that with a pinch of salt), and Leicester City could make a move for Brady, offering the 24-year-old a route to European football at least.

But what if Brady and Hendrick, and some of their international team-mates, got the chance to play somewhere outside of the small world that is English football?

What if a club like Lyon came calling for an Ireland international, as they did back in 1989 when Mick McCarthy left behind a cold, sectarian Scottish city for a new life in the stunningly-beautiful?

There was a time when Irish players going to the continent was the done thing. Heroes from the Charlton years, like Liam Brady, Kevin Moran, John Aldridge, McCarthy, Frank Stapleton and Tony Cascarino all played for clubs in Europe. The League of Ireland exported to the continent lads like Liam Buckley, Alan Cambell and Jacko McDonagh.

In more recent times, lads such as David Connolly (Holland), Ian Harte and Steve Finnan (both Spain) took a chance.

But lately, it's been a case of staying close to home and the homogeneous nature of Irish footballers is at odds with the rest of Europe, where players tend to spread their wings and fly as much as possible.

The Polish players who beat Ireland in Euro qualification were, at the time, attached to clubs in six different countries, from England to Italy and from Germany to Spain. The Irish team? One hundred percent from England's clubs.

Does that by default make the Polish lads better players? Not necessarily, and of course Europe's finest players want to get to England - eight of the French starting XI against Ireland now play, or did once play, in the English Premier League.

But you have to ask if it should be a matter of course for Irish players to play club football in England.

Of the 23-man Ireland panel which travelled to France for Euro 2016, only four (yes, four) players had played any sort of club football outside of Ireland and the UK. Two of those involved loan spells at the early stages of the careers of John O'Shea (in Belgium) and Richard Keogh (Iceland).

The only other two who had tried life outside of 'these islands' were Robbie Keane and Aiden McGeady, who made a fair stab of things during his time with Spartak Moscow.

But that UK-centric attitude permeates the whole Irish game. Last season, in the 50-odd leagues in Europe outside of Britain and Ireland, only two Irish-born players played top-flight club football: Jack Byrne (likely to progress to the senior squad) in Holland; and Cillian Sheridan, a player who once had enough potential for Giovanni Trapattoni to start him up front against Argentina, who is happily playing away in the Cypriot league and will be appearing for Omonia in the Europa League this season.

Marco Tardelli, once he took his foot out of his mouth, has spoken of how he had tried to alert Italian clubs to Hendrick a few years ago. Hendrick's skill, temperament, energy and eye for goal would make him a dream signing for some Italian club.


Wes Hoolahan missed out on the chance to play at a really high level in Europe as his talents were largely wasted on the likes of Livingston and Blackpool.

But Brady is at the right age (24) and has the talent to play, certainly in a league which offers more than Rotherham United. Brady and Hendrick will have Premier league offers on the table, maybe they already have.

But the prospect of the two boys lining out for the likes of Lyon on a Champions League night, instead of slogging away for Crystal Palace or Burnley, is something to dream about.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News