Almost fourteen years to the day from his international debut, Chris Brunt called time on his Northern Ireland career. Having taken time over the summer to ponder his future, Brunt confirmed suspicions that he would step away from the national side to concentrate on his club football.
Sanchez, Worthington and O’Neill
Chris Brunt’s made his debut under Lawrie Sanchez in an uneventful 0-0 friendly draw with Switzerland in Zurich. A second half replacement for Stuart Elliott, it was a sign of things to come as he would end up replacing Elliott in the long term.
As the years went by, Brunt became an integral part of the Northern Ireland set up but for a long time he looked set to become yet another player who wouldn’t fulfil their potential. This was perhaps indicative of the fortunes of the team at that period as Sanchez departed and the Nigel Worthington era brought some truly low depths.
As history will record, Michael O’Neill’s appointment in 2011 was a true turning point for every facet of international football in Northern Ireland. Chris Brunt’s retirement statement paid tribute to the management and character of O’Neill, but it could all have gone so differently.
The 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign showed moments of promise as O’Neill changed the very fabric of Northern Ireland’s style of play but wins were still few and far between. As the group played its way to its conclusion Northern Ireland let a 2-1 score slip against Portugal to lose 4-2 at Windsor Park, the turning point undoubtedly one of two red cards in that match – Chris Brunt’s double booking. As a player who never really excelled for his country, and with young Shane Ferguson waiting in the wings, I have to admit to feeling I might have been happy to have cleansed ourselves of Chris Brunt there and then.
Agony and Ecstasy
Thankfully hindsight allows me to see the errs in my thinking. Michael O’Neill kept the faith in Brunt and restored him to the squad following his suspension. The infamous Euro 2016 qualifying campaign would be Chris Brunt’s best period in a Northern Ireland shirt contrasted with devastation when he picked up an injury that would rule him out of playing in Northern Ireland’s first finals tournament in 30 years.
Brunt signed off in the 2018 World Cup Qualifying campaign, scoring his 3rd international goal in the group game at home to Czech Republic. It was a simply beautiful finish from the-now-wing back, curling the ball around the Czech wall and into the bottom corner of the net.
In the last few years Chris Brunt’s almost telephatic partnership with Baggies teammates Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley would be one of the cornerstones of Michael O’Neill’s set up. The trio combining for club and country was a joy to see.
While Brunty’s final games for Northern Ireland may have ended in disappointment, with the play off against the Swiss, he will be forever remembered for his part played during this golden era of the Northern Ireland team. Having bounced back from set backs and showing his passion for the team and the fans, he will be sorely missed in the international squads.
Chris Brunt signed off his statement on his international retirement by saying that it was his pleasure. I can assure him that it was our pleasure.