“When you saw the two lining up, the hairs on your neck stood up!”
When Burnley’s record signing Robbie Brady and his predecessor Jeff Hendrick, stood side by side for the Republic of Ireland in the European Championships, they realised a dream for their former coaches.
St Kevin’s Boys pair Billy McCornack and Kevin Wallace were at the Aviva Stadium in their home city of Dublin to watch their most prized graduates start alongside each other for the first time since moving on from their schoolboy roots.
The game was a Group D qualifier against Scotland, a fixture in which the duo saw out the 90 minutes in a 1-1 draw in the summer of 2015.
They had played together previously, for Dublin’s representative squads, and they had progressed through their country’s age groups from being teenagers.
They’d had 20 minutes together in the 7-0 thrashing of Gibraltar in 2014 when Brady replaced Clarets full back Stephen Ward, and they were given the nod by Martin O’Neill in the friendly against England.
But this was different. This was the moment where fantasy became a reality and it had all come together just a stone’s throw away from where it had all began.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Wallace. “It was so exciting seeing them lining up together against Scotland.
“To see them [involved in the Euros] was fantastic. When you saw the two lining up the hairs on your neck stood up. After all these years to see the two lads together playing for Ireland, it was just fantastic.”
It was just eight months ago when Brady, then at Norwich City, flicked a header past Italy keeper Salvatore Sirigu in a dramatic finale at Stade Pierre-Mauroy to send his nation through to the knockout stages of the Euros.
The versatile left-footer then netted from the spot in the following fixture against hosts France at Parc OL only to see Atletico Madrid striker, and eventual Golden Boot winner, Antoine Griezmann, turn the tie around.
“A few things stood out for me, obviously with Robbie standing up to take a penalty against France,” said McCornack. “Straight away we said he would score because from the age of eight they were taking penalties and we were teaching them. That’s the truth, and he never missed a penalty. We were really confident about him.”
He added: “It was a great header [against Italy]. “Even to run from that position he was in and keep going. He doesn’t give up until the end and he took the chance to get in-between the defenders. It was a great goal.”
Both McCornack and Wallace were in attendance to see Brady convert a trademark free kick on his home debut at Turf Moor as Sean Dyche’s side drew 1-1 with Premier League leaders Chelsea.
“We’ve kept in touch more with Jeffrey,” added McCornack, the former boss of the schoolboy club. “With Robbie there’s been bits and pieces, he invited me over to Manchester United when he was with them and with Jeffrey we went to Derby a lot.
“The two lads have been really good to us that way. They haven’t forgotten their roots and where they are from.
“They’ve done lots for St Kevin’s Boys, going back and doing training sessions and functions.”
Hendrick had been hand-picked from the local mini leagues at the age of eight, joining Brady who had represented the club since being five years old.
McCornack and Wallace knew that big things beckoned.
“I first saw Jeffrey in the local mini leagues, I approached his father Billy to see if he’d join St Kevin’s Boys and he agreed to come to us,” said McCormac. “He would have been eight.
“Robert was seven. He came through the mini leagues system within St Kevin’s Boys itself, he’d been there since he was five.”
Wallace added: “At the time we were struggling behind all schoolboy clubs, such as Home Farm.
“But Kevin’s is probably the most successful schoolboy club in Dublin on the back of that team and the two lads doing so well.”
McCormac returned to the conversation: “With Jeffrey, when he came onto the pitch he stood tall, chest out. He was tall and blonde at the time and he stood out for that.
“The first time I saw him play he picked the ball at the back and ran the length of the pitch past everyone and smashed in a shot from 15 yards. I think every single person on the touchline was thinking ‘he’s got something’.
“Robert was slightly different. He was trickier, good on the ball, great left foot. He had more individual skill. We saw the prospect was there.
“They were great and worked very hard. Their work ethic from being eight or nine was amazing.”
Wallace finished: “I think they’re going to be the mainstay of Ireland for years to come, and hopefully for Burnley.”