Martin O’Neill left drained after ‘sticky old night’ at the Parken

Ireland boss: ‘It was tough going. We’ve just got to win the game on Tuesday now’

Who knows how much these nights take out of Martin O’Neill. Just before 11pm, the Irish manager comes into a bright little box room in the basement of the Parken stadium and seems as he always does on these evenings win, lose or draw: utterly spent.

The voice almost gone, the observations short and to the point and the mind clearly elsewhere. 0-0: the very result that Age Hareide had declared, on Friday night, would be a good outcome for Ireland. For O’Neill it was satisfactory but he couldn’t help wish for a bit more; having set up his team to blunt a Danish attacking system that had promised big things, his mind turned to the rare, glittering moments of Ireland’s front-foot play.

“The players put a big effort into the game. We could have scored a goal. But the game is evenly poised for the second leg.”

He's right: Ireland might have scored here but it would have been outrageous fortune given how seldom they troubled Kasper Schmeichel.


O'Neill's selection was adventurous, rewarding Callum O'Dowda's impressive turn against Moldova with a start to replace the suspended David Myler. It was an exciting thought: Harry Arter and O'Dowda at midfield but even it was notionally an attacking team, the reality was that they would be forced to defend for long stretches.

Denmark owned the ball for long periods and the Irish were content to let them weave passes around the periphery of their defensive formation before pressing with high intent and organisation whenever Christian Eriksen or Nicolai Jorgenson became involved in the play. O'Dowda looked comfortable, busy and composed in his defensive duties and eager to get on the ball when he could.

“He did well. He had a couple of runs, it was a sticky old night. To throw him into that atmosphere, I thought he coped well. I don’t think it was his particular fault that he wasn’t getting into the game early on, we just couldn’t get the ball into him. But he did the defensive part well and he was starting to break on them, too, at the end.

“The pitch was really awkward tonight,” he continued. “It might not have been the best but overall we adjusted and we coped for the most part. They had a good chance to score but put it wide. Cyrus [Christie] made some inroads into them, particularly towards the end of the fist half. But you have to score a goal to win a game. Tonight was just a real physical battle. It was tough going. We’ve just got to win the game on Tuesday now.”

In an odd way, the expectation and obligation to do something has been transferred to Ireland now. Their daring raids on foreign soil have been their salvation in this group but in Dublin, they have struggled to impose themselves the way home teams should.

Denmark might well do their best to imitate the Irish when they come to Dublin, sitting back and demanding that the Irish break then down before looking to strike on the break. Shane Long was given 15 minutes to try and escape the dry run of form that has plagued him but this was not a night for Irish goal scorers. But Tuesday night brings a match when Ireland must score.

“We would obviously want to be better with the ball in Dublin,” said O’Neill. “We’ll be playing in front of our own fans. We will need to be, in all honesty, to score a goal. It’s very evenly poised. He [Hareide] said he thinks they’re capable of scoring at the Aviva. I wouldn’t doubt that. With the players they possess they’re capable of scoring a goal so we might have to score two to win the match. But we’re capable of that.”

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times