Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady completed a journey from a Dublin boys’ club to the pinnacle of European football when they ran out for the Republic of Ireland against Sweden.
The pair first met as six-year-olds at St Kevin’s Boys and have risen through the ranks together, and it was perhaps fitting that they played the biggest game of their respective careers to date side-by-side at the Stade de France in Monday evening’s 1-1 Group E draw.
They will hope to repeat the feat when Ireland face Belgium in Bordeaux on Saturday afternoon, but they know what they have already achieved is noteworthy.
Brady said: “I think we were about six or seven years old at our club, St Kevin’s Boys back home in Dublin. Jeff came in at that stage and we have gone on from there.
“We have played in every team possible from then on, international level and all the way up to senior. It’s not every day something like that happens, so with Jeff a good mate of mine, to be able to play on the big stage with him was excellent.”
Brady admitted excitement grew as the Republic edged themselves closer to qualification with their joint career paths never far from their minds.
He said: “It’s been incredible. It’s a long road and we have been lucky enough to do it together. We were speaking about it throughout the group stage.
“We were picking up late results and it looked like we were giving ourselves a chance in the group stage, and I just spoke to Jeff about it and said how big a deal it would be if we managed to get here.
“To play together on the big stage was unbelievable. It was a great moment for the both of us.”
Off the field, the pair remain close friends, although they have had to get used to slightly different domestic arrangements over the last week or so.
Hendrick said: “We have roomed together every trip except for this, when we have had our own. The first day we came in, it was a bit different. We were used to being in the room having a chat.
“We grew up close enough to each other, so we know a lot of the same people as well. We have a lot to talk about, so not rooming together now was a bit different.”