Outcasts Adam Idah and Troy Parrott win fans as Jake O’Brien makes mark in French final battle

From a nod of recognition and a strong handshake by Emmanuel Macron in the direction of one young Irishman, to the acclaim of thousands on the terraces for the goals of two others.

After a Premier League season which has to be seen as pallid in terms of Irish contributions, it was at last a weekend to savour on foreign fields for three footballers, all born in this country within 12 months of each other.

Even if he never plays for the club again, Adam Idah has secured the status of eternal hero in the green half of Glasgow after scoring the winning goal in the Old Firm Cup final. Meanwhile, over in Rotterdam, supporters of the city’s second club, Excelsior, dug deep to find the superlatives worthy of Troy Parrott after he scored three goals in a 7-1 win in their relegation play-off.

Over in Lille, sadly, Jake O’Brien’s run in the French Cup ended as predicted, his Olympique Lyon side bystanders as Paris Saint-Germain triumphed to give Kylian Mbappé the adieu he craved in his last sighting in that blue shirt.

But Cork native O’Brien certainly made an impact in the game as he has done right throughout his breakthrough season, scoring Lyon’s only goal of their 2-1 defeat.

​Before the match, O’Brien was introduced to Macron by Lyon’s US billionaire owner John Textor, and over the following 90 minutes, the former Cork City man delivered another stunning display and goal.

For all the attacking talent in that Lyon side, O’Brien was their second highest scorer. Bought for €1m from Lyon’s sister club Crystal Palace in the summer, their then manager Laurent Blanc looked down his nose at the new arrival. O’Brien would, Blanc said, be a squad player at best, more likely to be loaned out.

With Blanc rapidly getting the sack, his successors in the Lyon hot-seat backed O’Brien and were rewarded with one of the most remarkable seasons delivered by an Irish player in a major European league in decades.

Lyon newspaper Le Progres hailed O’Brien in their player ratings for the Cup final defeat, a day when he “stood up” while team-mate Nemanja Matic “disappeared”.

A vote of confidence from two bosses at Lyon transformed O’Brien’s season and his career. Now, the challenge is for Idah and Parrott to do something similar after their seasons on loan in Scotland and the Netherlands.

Idah was unwanted and unloved at Norwich, something he admitted himself. “I probably wasn’t enjoying my football down south. I was a scapegoat and it’s tough when you’re in there,” he said after that dramatic winner in the Cup final.

“The love I’ve had here has been amazing. I’m loving it here. I probably didn’t expect it to be as good as what it was. This has really changed my career around.

“I’ve come up here and the players, the staff, the fans, they’ve all welcomed me in, and they’ve given me that confidence and belief to enjoy playing football again.”

The Canaries are still assessing the impact of a dismal finish to the season but as the club search for a new manager, there should also be an investigation into just who approved the decision to loan out Idah to Celtic when he surely could have contributed at the end of the season. Norwich failed to score once in the last three games of the season, including a 4-0 aggregate loss in the Championship play-offs.

At least the Norwich manager David Wagner (who was sacked after the play-off shambles) knew who Idah was and had defended his decision to loan him out. The same can hardly be said for Parrott’s boss at his parent club. Ange Postecoglou has bigger issues than a young player out on loan to deal with, given that limp finish to the campaign by Spurs. And he’s not mentioned Parrott all season – out of sight and out of mind.

It will be noted that Parrott came through issues – injury and a recent red card as well as the usual curse of homesickness – to deliver for Exclesior. They’re not out of the woods yet and their extended season has implications for Ireland, as they play their last relegation play-off next Sunday, two days before Ireland host Hungary in a friendly.

Exclesior would love to have Parrott back next season but that won’t happen. The most likely outcome is that Spurs will sell him to one of the many sides keen on his services – German, Dutch and French clubs are all eager.

Then again, Postecoglou may step back and think of poor calls by rival managers, like Wagner loaning out Idah or Blanc not rating O’Brien, who has increased his transfer valuation tenfold. Foreign fields have suited the trio of Idah, O’Brien and Parrott and for the sake of this brittle Irish team, it can only be hoped they keep improving.

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