Still holding out for a hero

Still holding out for a hero
David McGoldrick in action against Henrik Dalsgaard of Denmark. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The night ended with a mixture of mayhem and panic engulfing Aviva Stadium. But no delirium.

Ireland needed someone to make themselves a hero at the death but now hope only lives on in the play-offs.

Ireland required one goal to stand any chance of automatic qualification for Euro 2020.

Denmark needed only one shot on target to end those fanciful hopes.

Martin Braithwaite’s 73rd minute strike was the visitors’ first opportunity on target. It was all they needed to break Irish hearts.

Matt Doherty set up a rousing finish with an 85th-minute equaliser but once the flurry of adrenaline which followed subsided there was only disappointment.

The struggle will now continue into familiar territory with a play-off route the last resort. The same old story; the same old anguish.

Ireland fans would have arrived in hope rather than expectation and, as the minutes ticked by here, belief would have grown.

Then, with the game approaching its final quarter, Braithwaite provided a clinical reminder of the fine margins.

One man sitting on the Ireland bench would surely have appreciated the craft to his finish. It was straight out of Robbie Keane scoring playbook, one he turned the page on 68 times.

Keane had taken on the role of cheerleader-in-chief over the weekend.

Ireland’s record goalscorer is now, of course, part of Mick McCarthy’s coaching staff, and he spoke rousingly as he leaned on the emotion of the occasion to inspire those players under his guidance.

Keane called for someone to make themselves a hero. He spoke of the players’ childhood dreams, their reasons for falling in love with a game that, once you reach this level, is far removed from the romanticised version this Ireland starting XI would remember.

Only David McGoldrick was not raised on this island.

There were men from Wicklow, Dublin, Derry, Kerry, and Cork in a dark shade of green. But when the golden goal came, it was the Danes who struck, having seemed content with a goalless draw.

When they lost midfielder Thomas Delaney and striker Andreas Cornelius through injury inside the opening 33 minutes, they became even more resolute.

You could hardly blame them. The onus was on Ireland to probe and find a way through. Six goals in their previous seven Group D games was a firm indication of how difficult a task that would be.

Ireland’s best opportunity of the first half fell to Conor Hourihane 11 minutes before half-time. It arrived by luck rather than design. McGoldrick’s pass inside from the right wing was meant for Alan Browne but the forward overhit it and the advancing Hourihane somehow found himself in the box with the ball at his feet.

He opened his body so as to connect with favoured left foot but the shot was tame and easily collected by a grateful Kasper Schmeichel.

McGoldrick flashed a half volley over the bar in the 67th minute and just seconds later McCarthy opted for fresh attacking verve with the introduction of Callum Robinson.

There was no hero on a night with the Euros within touching distance, and this was not the occasion for Troy Parrott to properly introduce himself as the heir apparent to Keane’s throne. His full debut in the friendly with New Zealand on Thursday provided a glimpse of his promise but we will have to wait for the days ahead under manager-in-waiting Stephen Kenny to get a true sense of his ability.

Euro 2020 remains a distant dream when scoring more than once in a game against quality opposition remains so difficult.

It’s not that Ireland have a reluctant hero in their ranks, they simply don’t have the quality where it really matters.

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