Derry City dynamo Ronan Hale, like his grandfather before him, delights in lighting up the Brandywell
He's the talk of the town.
At times, when the League of Ireland isn't at its pulsating best, you can essentially just player watch. When football fans from across the globe flock to see Real Madrid or Barcelona, they can be excused for becoming transfixed by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi respectively. After all, they are two of the most gifted athletes on the planet.
While the Brandywell doesn't quite stack up to the Santiago Bernabeu or Camp Nou as a footballing amphitheatre, there was a sense on Friday night that eyes were fixated on one man: Ronan Hale.
The Derry City forward has exploded onto the Irish football scene and was understandably the star attraction when the Candystripes hosted League of Ireland basement side Bray Wanderers.
Derry's campaign has been a mixed bag of the brilliant and befuddlingly bad so far, but Hale's emergence has been a source of excitement. The Belfast-born attacker, fresh off a hat-trick against Limerick, lurked with menace throughout a buoyant Brandywell evening.
When the tempo of the game slowed, the eyes wandered towards Hale, an electric presence on the wing on the ball, a strutting, thoroughly confident one off it.
They love a tackle in Derry and when Hale thundered into a 50-50, the crowd jumped to their feet in acclaim.
There was contentment, too, for the most of Derry's play. Leading through a fortuitous Rory Patterson effort going into the second half, Derry's comfort was momentarily disturbed when Nicky Low was sent off.
It forced Bray into adopting a more enterprising approach to the game which, in a surprising twist of fate, turned out to be their undoing. Ronan Curtis made it two before Aaron McEneff slotted home a penalty to make sure of the three points.
What another great win by the lads tonight! 10 men for the 2nd half and the fight was unreal! Great 5-1 win and another goal for me! Fans were unreal again! Come onnnn!🔴⚪️ #DCFC
— Ronan Hale (@ronanhale9) March 16, 2018
Then Hale, at times a peripheral presence after a busy start, slotted impressively into the net thirteen minutes from time to make it four. Sean Heaney pulled one back for Wanderers but David Hopkirk capped another five-star Derry performance to leave Kenny Shiels' side in fifth place, with three wins and three defeats.
Hale may have missed a gilt-edged chance in the first-half and failed to fire home on the break in the second, but the confidence with which he took his goal was a measure of the man, enthusiasm undimmed and defiantly unfazed by fresh memories of missing the target.
Rory Hale caught the eye, too, in midfield, but it was difficult to look beyond the speed and dynamism of his younger sibling.
There was a suggestion that the double capture (Ronan is on loan from Birmingham City while Rory signed after being released by Aston Villa) of the Hale brothers by Derry could prove in the long run to be two extremely shrewd pieces of business. Considering that Rory is 21 and Ronan is just 19, they have the opportunity to forge a lasting legacy at the Brandywell – and they've certainly set themselves on an upward trajectory.
UPDATE: @BurnleyOfficial/@ASFCofficial defender James Dunne, @AVFCOfficial midfielder Jake Doyle-Hayes and @derrycityfc winger Ronan Hale have been added to #IRLU21🇮🇪 squad. pic.twitter.com/fILi6Cc22A
— Ireland Football ⚽️🇮🇪 (@IrelandFootball) March 16, 2018
Of course, the name Hale is one that carries weight in the red and white of Derry City. Rory and Ronan's grandfather, Danny, didn't take long becoming a club legend. Danny Hale spent three years at the Brandywell between 1968-71, scoring over 100 goals including 45 in his first season.
With a grandfather holding legendary status among the Derry supporters, it's a lot to live up to for the Hale brothers. Danny was there in attendance on Friday night and one would suggest he was proud of the way his grandsons strutted their stuff.
It will be Rory's job to command the midfield but there will be pressure on Ronan to deliver on the goal front. With five in his last three games, it's safe to say he hasn't been fazed by the exalted status of family members or indeed by the pressure of being looked upon as one of the team's main attacking weapons.
So far, he's taken it in his stride.
It's been a fine week for the Hales. Both Rory and Ronan have been called up to the Republic of Ireland U21 side for the games against Iceland and Azerbaijan. If Ronan replicates the clinical touch he's shown for Derry in the green of Ireland, Martin O'Neill may have another attacking talent to consider in the future.
For now, though, he's staying focused on lighting up Derry's season. If the last week is anything to go by, there's plenty to look forward to.