A night for head and heart, but mainly heart

LIAM MACKEY: A night for head and heart, but mainly heart
WELCOME BACK: Ireland’s Richard Keogh arrived at the team’s base in Dublin to offer support last night. Keogh has been sacked by his club Derby after suffering an injury in a car crash. Keogh is pictured with Irish boss Mick McCarthy and his assistant Terry Connor. Picture: Sportsfile

Well, yes, and here we go again… But before we get into ‘Dane-ja vu’ or even ‘Oh, Dane-ger here’ territory, a word of two about the headlines that got away on account of Troy Parrott being so inconsiderate towards us hacks as to refrain from crowning his senior debut, at the ridiculously tender age of 17, with the goal or two or even three which we were all demanding.

On the way into the Aviva on Thursday evening, I bumped into a colleague who was rubbing his hands at the thought of the Troy wonder doing enough to warrant the admittedly rather excellent pre-prepared headline: ‘Who’s A Pretty Boy, Then?’.

Me, being a cruder sort, was imagining the kind of introductory goal haul to a long net-busting career which — channelling Fergie — might have merited something along the lines of: ‘Parrott To Knock Robbie Off His F***ing Perch!’

Oh, well, remember where you didn’t read it first.

Not that I don’t expect the kid to rapidly move up the, um, pecking order over the months and years to come. Just not, perhaps in time for the return of the Danes on Monday night, more’s the pity, though he has certainly done enough at underage level for club and country, and again with his promising debut against New Zealand, to at least merit a place on the bench as a kind of x-factor to whom we might well need to turn in our hour or 70 minutes of need.

Likewise Robbie Brady, who might profit more from a late arrival on the pitch when legs are tiring and the game is getting stretched, given his mixed performance on his return to the Irish team on Thursday hardly did enough to convince Mick McCarthy he will be ready to hit the ground running for a second and vastly bigger test in just a couple of days.

Which means that the right side of midfield probably remains the biggest question mark in the manager’s starting XI. Assuming he keeps faith with James McClean on the left flank, then options like Callum Robinson, Alan Judge, Callum O’Dowda and maybe even the versatile Alan Browne would be among the contenders. But, after Monday night, Sean Maguire is sure to have moved up in McCarthy’s thoughts as an option on that side, with David McGoldrick set to make his very welcome return up top.

Of course, it goes without saying — though McCarthy could hardly be faulted for saying it repeatedly since the final whistle on Thursday — that Denmark and New Zealand could hardly be further apart as football teams than they already are geographically. But that won’t have in any way have diminished the sense of relief and even liberation the former Cork City man must have felt at putting his early international frustrations behind him and breaking his mini-goal drought for his country with what was, into the bargain, a memorable strike.

With that monkey off his back, the boost to Maguire’s confidence should be considerable and, in the spirit of striking when the iron’s hot, McCarthy and Ireland could stand to profit on Monday night.

When the manager talks about reverting to his tried and trusted for this decisive game, it pretty much tells you that your present correspondent probably has as good a chance of making the starting line-up as Jack Byrne.

But he certainly deserves a place on the bench. With all due respect to the cup-holders and league champions, starring for Shamrock Rovers against Dundalk obviously doesn’t automatically translate into starring for Ireland against Denmark, but Byrne’s willingness to show for the ball, his composure in possession and his incisive and expansive range of passing are all qualities which Ireland have cried out for since the blessed Wessi was in his prime.

Of some concern is Byrne’s occasional tendency to fade in games late on but he’s certainly another of those x-factor types McCarthy would do well to have in reserve if the Irish find themselves chasing the game on Monday night.

Ultimately, though, we know that if the home side are to prevail against superior opposition, it won’t be about one or two world-class players making the difference — as was certifiably the case for Denmark when, inspired by a masterclass in finishing by Christian Eriksen, they put the green shirts to the sword the last time the two countries met in a game with tournament qualification at stake. (As you might just recall).

For this Irish team, as has been the case with many Irish teams before them — even ones with demonstrably more individual quality — getting the win against the odds will be all about the ingredients which go into making the whole add up to more than the sum of its parts. Those familiar and never-to-be-sneered-at attributes like collective fight and heart and lung-bursting endeavour. Maximum concentration so that error is minimised. Good set-piece delivery on which the likes of Shane Duffy can hope to capitalise. Darren Randolph being at his very best. The midfield showing more composure in possession and better use of the ball than has often been the case in this campaign. And, of course, finding that clinical finish if and when a chance does come our way.

A packed Aviva, if given something to cheer about, will play its part too on a huge occasion when, even though almost everything will have to go right for Ireland if they are to prevail — and it would help too, of course, if the visitors were gracious enough to have just a bit of an off night, thanks very much — victory against Denmark should by no means be regarded as some kind of mission impossible.

And we already know just what source of joy a win would be. Back in 2001, Mick McCarthy’s team did it against the Dutch. And the high points of Martin O’Neill’s reign were those victories, as soul-stirring as they were unexpected, against Germany at home and Austria, Wales, and Italy on the road. And here comes one more for the heart and the head. But, mainly, you suspect, the heart.

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