Robbie Brunton: Obituary and tribute

Robbie Brunton 2/4/2000

Robbie Brunton played much of his football in the pre-internet age so hard facts about the hard man who had a soft heart and a classy left foot are not easy to come by.

One report claims he picked up 13 red cards in his career, a tally that’s hard to stand up, but one thing is clear from his time as a footballer: Brunton was a fighter, a fighter who was tragically taken away at the age of 47 after a battle with cancer.

No medals came his way but fans and team-mates of the nine clubs he represented will remember the Dubliner, especially those at Sligo Rovers and Bohemians, where he had his best years in the 1990s.

He was usually scrapping at the wrong end of the table, but did it with success. His first season at Bohemians, 1998/99, turned into an unexpected relegation battle, which Roddy Collins’ side won, staying up by beating Cobh Ramblers.

He is listed in the folklore of Newry Town, as it was a goal from the Dubliner which saw Newry avoid relegation from the top flight in 2003, when they beat Bangor.

“The 1st Leg was drawn 0-0 at Bangor but in the 2nd leg at the Showgrounds with just nine minutes remaining the Town were level at 1-1. Had this scoreline remained until the final whistle, Newry would have lost the overall tie on the away goals rule and the club would have been relegated. Robbie Brunton however scored from a 81st minute penalty and preserved the club’s place in the top grade,” recalls the club history of the club that became Newry City.

Back in the day, boy scouts in Ireland were taught a prayer which said they would “toil and not to seek for rest, labour and look for no reward”. Robbie Brunton had to toil and labour, usually with little or no reward.

So often he missed the boat which was ultimately bound for glory: he joined Sligo Rovers in the summer of 1994, just after the side had won a treble. He joined Derry City in 1997 when they were reigning champions but who then made a poor attempt at defending their league title.

He spent two years at Bohs and didn’t win a trophy – within a year of his exit Bohs, the club Brunton would come to support once his playing career was finished, were Premier Division champions.

It looked as if he would miss out on his best chance of a medal, the FAI Cup final in 1999/2000, as a red card (yes, he did get some) left him with a three-game suspension which would have sidelined him for the Cup final.

Bohs’ opponents in the final, Shelbourne, faced a similar dilemma as Paul Doolin was also facing a ban. The rule book was read and re-read, decisions were taken, and Brunton and Doolin got to play in the final, where Robbie was on the losing side.

He played in European football, but again mainly without the glory that would later come the way of his former club Dundalk: Brunton was sent off 30 minutes into his European debut, for Sligo against Floriana of Malta, although the side got through, so he did play a role in the club’s first-ever European win, and he returned to play against Bruges in the next round. There were heavy defeats in Europe while in the employ of Dundalk and Coleraine.

After he left Bohs, Robbie did another Discover Ireland tour, spells at Kilkenny City, Monaghan United, Dundalk, Newry Town and Crusaders, mostly out of the limelight as that Cup defeat to Shels in 2000 was the closest he’d come to a medal.

Yet Sligo fans always retained a soft spot for Brunton on his returns there with opposing teams. Sligo had plenty of half-hearted players over the years who were only there for the money, so the supporters appreciated the committed ones like Brunton.

Many players drop off the radar once their own playing careers are finished but Robbie was a regular at Dalymount Park in the last number of years: like any fan he was frustrated by the lows but utterly delighted with the highs and he was a big supporter of the project headed up by Keith Long, someone who would have been an opponent many times in their playing careers.

He was never jealous of the players who picked up the medals which he missed out on, but was proud of the efforts he put in for the clubs which employed him.

Some careers can be ranked by the medals won, others by the sheer effort put in, and then the fondness which was returned by supporters for those efforts.

Robbie Brunton gave his all for every club he played for and as someone of a similar age (Robbie was a year and three days younger than me), his loss at 47 is heartbreaking.

His boys, Darragh and Ryan, were regulars with him at Dalymount and all three would be seen wearing a Bohs scarf in the Jodi Stand.

As a player, he wore the shirt of Bohs, and Sligo and Coleraine and Dundalk and others, with pride and played with valour.

May he rest in peace.

Aidan Fitzmaurice

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