Ireland grow as Denmark shrink but late late show fails to fully deliver
Ireland give super performance in front of raucous support but search for glory goes on
The atmosphere was raucous and unruly, a bit like a Commons debate as chaired by John Bercow. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Listen, Mick McCarthy never promised you a rose garden. Ireland 1 Denmark 1 is not so much a football result at this stage as a law of gravity.
Ireland gave a super performance on a frozen night in Dublin, but it still wasn’t enough to get them through to next summer’s European championship finals. If it’s true that the Augusta Masters only starts at that back nine on the final day, then vital Republic of Ireland qualifying games only truly start after 80 minutes have passed. So it went here. Martin Braithwaite ghosted through a rare gap in Ireland’s defensive concentration to give Denmark a one-goal lead. Matt Doherty struck back for the Republic with five minutes remaining. After that, time slowed down and the Lansdowne mood fell somewhere between ecstasy and anarchy.
It was a night when the crowd set the atmosphere. The Lansdowne crowd was antsy and volatile from the outset, lustily booing the Danish players when they touched the ball, presumably for perceived slights and insults about the national football pedigree and Ireland’s fondness for thumping the ball long. Then, they cheered when the Irish thumped the ball long. The atmosphere was raucous and unruly, a bit like a Commons debate as chaired by John Bercow. That mood spread to the pitch, where Ireland laid out starkly physical terms. Thomas Delaney lasted just eight minutes after getting tangled up in Alan Browne.
Then Andreas Cornelius, Denmark’s burly front man, was left with a bloodied head after whacking into John Egan. The Cork man bounced up, Cornelius stayed down, a bit world-weary. Five minutes later he yanked his hamstring, completing his misery. He walked straight to the dressing room and possibly the airport.
All the while Ireland grew in assurance and inventiveness. They played the ball out of their own defence with surprising assurance. With Christian Eriksen darting about the place looking for a half-chance, it was, quite frankly, an unnerving sight. Somewhere, the ghostly voice of Jack Charlton was booming the instruction to knock it long. Football in one’s own half is a risky business. But that did not happen. And in the second half, Ireland warmed to the night. James McClean had found his moxie and inner rage: never a good sign for opposition teams.
Glenn Whelan, now 35 but still indispensable, was a marvel. There was a fine five-minute spell when Matt Doherty, brilliant here, stroked the ball around like Socrates. The Danes looked brittle and unhappy. Then came the exchange of goals and the old story: a late-night search for some source of glory.
But the search goes on. Play-offs games beckon in countries yet to be decided, but either Wales or Slovakia are likely opponents next March. If Ireland win that assignment, then a second play-off game awaits. That one may be in Bosnia. It may be across the border in Belfast. No rose gardens.