Hope is nothing but a tease. And a survivor

Hope is nothing but a tease. And a survivor
A Republic of Ireland supporter feels the strain during last night’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Denmark at the Aviva Stadium. Matt Doherty’s late equaliser gave Ireland renewed hope but a winning goal proved elusive. Picture: Seb Daly.

Hope pays no heed to logic. It shrugs off form like a half-hearted tackle.

There was plenty of hope around Lansdowne Road last night.

You could sense it in the pubs around Beggars Bush as the punters spilled out into the chilled open air with their pints. You could smell it in the air, mingling with the whiff of burgers and onions sizzling in the mobile chippers.

And what was it all based on?

An Irish team that played dismally in their last two qualifying games, away to Georgia and Switzerland. A side for whom whatever bump they had experienced on foot of Mick McCarthy’s arrival had flatlined just as the group was coming to a head.

Denmark came with a lip curled in disgust at the thoughts of playing Ireland again. Unbeaten in yonks, they had already scored 22 times in this campaign but just one of those was carved out after 90 minutes of toil from the visit of Ireland to Copenhagen.

There was hope in that.

It was just two years since the Scandinavians had landed on Dublin’s shores and plundered five on another night of major importance.

The fear here was that Åge Hareide’s lads needed just the one to ask something of Ireland that has been beyond them for so, so long.

So it proved.

It was three years since the Republic had claimed more than one goal against a side you would class as ‘decent’.

Jeff Hendrick gave them the lead against Serbia in Belgrade in a World Cup qualifier that night. Daryl Murphy rescued a draw with an equaliser nine minutes from time.

The Boys in Green had played 19 games against a side with some sort of reputation as a ‘footballing nation’ in the time since and the sum of their endeavours going forward never exceeded a solitary goal. A clean sheet had to be the first priority.

And the second and third.

You could sense that all through the first-half. Ireland had taken early leads against the Danes in previous qualification finales, in 1985 and again in 2017, and ended up being stuffed twice. There seemed to be no rush to push the envelope here.

Ireland played some decent stuff. A few touches from David McGoldrick quickened the pulse. The loss to the visitors of Thomas Delaney and Andreas Cornelius were two more crumbs of comfort as the sides threw some shapes without ever trying to do serious damage.

Half-time came and went with some decent opportunities at both ends. Shane Duffy came within a hair of connecting with a Glenn Whelan cross at the back post just minutes before the break. Maybe, you thought. Yeah, maybe.

Common sense doesn’t take the full night off either. Mick McCarthy had spoken with some degree of disgust at the approach Ireland might have had to take here if a draw was all they had required. He made it sound like the worst vision of purgatory. Do we push or do we pause?

Denmark looked pretty comfortable with just that quandary. There was a sense about them that they were killing time and conserving themselves for a point where the clock would becomeIreland’s enemy and desperation their friend.

It was a risky strategy.

If there has been one thing more consistent than the Republic’s predictable and slow attacking play down the years then it is the tendency to rouse themselves into bouts of great vengeance and furious anger just when the game appears to be up.

There was a point in around the 65th minute when the tempest seemed to be gathering. It ended with McGoldrick spooning a shot well over the bar but the couple of minutes that preceded it was fluid and composed.

And then it happened. The slayer of hope was Henrik Dalsgaard of Brentford in the English Championship.

It was his wicked in swinger of a cross behind the Irish defence and in front of Darren Randolph that was directed home by Martin Braithwaite.

The home crowd let out a roar of defiance as the game continued but it fell away, chased by the knowledge that an Irish team unable to score twice against opponents of note for over three years was unlikely to manage it in the space of 16 minutes and change.

If only that were that but, no. Hope is nothing but a tease. And a survivor. It’s an animal that has learned to thrive in the desert with little water and less food.

Matt Doherty’s equaliser was a bounty that fed five electric last minutes but then it was over.

Until March and the play-offs. And hope renewed that this time it might be different.

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