The striker struggled from a paucity of service at Hampden but he was happy to do the spade work for his mentor – and new Scotland boss
Two years ago, the idea of Eamonn Brophy leading the line would have been laughable. The same reaction would probably have greeted the appointment of Steve Clarke back then, too, though.
In that regard they are a pair who have aided each other’s elevation.
In a much-lauded spell at Kilmarnock, Clarke has shown Scotland what much of the football fraternity have long since known about his coaching and man-management abilities, and Brophy has hung on every word – and his coat-tails.
In that regard,the Killie forward embodies what the former Rugby Park boss achieved at Kilmarnock.
Ditched by Hamilton Accies, Brophy was rescued by Lee McCulloch, after seven goals and three assists in his 66 appearances were considered a poor return by the Lanarkshire side, who had also loaned him out to Queen’s Park and Dumbarton. But if Killie offered him a new home, it was Clarke who gave him the new lease of life and moulded and crafted him into the kind of striker who would effortlessly lead the line for him.
Undervalued and under-appreciated, club, manager and player flew under the radar, landing in third spot in the Premiership and then at Hampden last night, where they were charged with the task of helping Scotland win back the support of the Tartan Army and a crucial three points to keep their hopes of qualifying for the 2020 European Championships alive.
It must be said, both were granted such lofty positions by the fact that other options were not available or considered not up to the task. But while Clarke was welcomed by the majority, happy to see him replace Alex McLeish, there were some question marks about Brophy’s inclusion in his first squad.
A Scotland side who proved stodgy in their quest for goals in recent Group I qualifiers, there was a valid case for shaking things up and Clarke was firm in his insistence that Brophy, like the other Killie players, was there on merit.
This is a player who has captured the interest of Leeds United, of Rangers, and of others, and at 23 still has years ahead of him to develop further.
Playing a key role in his club, holding off sides built with bigger budgets and securing European action for the first time in almost two decades, he is a player who accepts the demands made by Clarke and understands the role he asks him to play.
An effective forward, who can play as the tip of the spear, linking up with team-mates out wide and nestl3 in behind him, or as a roving threat running in on defences from a deeper starting position, always as part of the three-man frontline preferred by his boss.
The 4-3-3 set-up served Clarke and Brophy well at club level but on the international stage, as they both made their entrance last night, they found it harder to get the rewards for their labours.
It took time and it took patience and in Brophy’s case it meant a lot of thankless running with little of the service he needed to add to his 12 goals in all competitions this season.
There was a meaty challenge as he charged in on the Cypriot backline in the opening few minutes that spoke of his determination to make an impact and then, as yet another cross was whipped across goal in the 27th minute, he tried to impersonate Inspector Gadget, stretching every sinew to get a head to the ball. But, with pressure being applied by his Cypriot marker, he couldn’t find the target with his effort.
The issue at that stage was that so much of the supply was coming from the flanks, with Ryan Fraser, James Forrest and Callum McGregor swinging in the deliveries, but with numbers back in the box, it was slim pickings for Brophy.
A player who can squeeze the game from the very front, being an effective first line of defence, the industry was evident, the end product, though, was not.
There was another chance killed off before it could bear fruit, the assistant referee intervening and flagging for offside. But the man who has netted important goals against big opposition this season could not add a debut Scotland goal to those bagged against Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen this term. But in making way for Oli Burke in the 72nd minute he will have been soothed by the recognition of his efforts. Applauded by the Tartan Army who had bought into the positive vibe emanating from the Scotland camp this week, it wasn’t the most eye-catching debut or the most scintillating contribution, but they appreciated the effort and the willingness of Brophy to dig deep and do the dirty work up front and remain upbeat despite the paucity of openings.
The desire was there but, in the end, it was his replacement who made sure the night and the memories of both his and Clarke’s first Scotland match would not be sullied.
After Cyprus cancelled out Andy Robertson’s equaliser, it was Burke who hit back to ensure the win. Which perhaps, allowed him to answer some of his own detractors.