James McClean cried the tears of a nation, crumbling in front of the cameras just as his Republic of Ireland colleagues had collapsed on a night of abject misery at the Aviva Stadium.
Ireland’s World Cup dreams soared after only six minutes of the World Cup play-off second leg, but it was all downhill thereafter as Age Hareide’s Denmark ruthlessly exposed sloppy defending to rout the boys in green 5-1.
Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen claimed a hat-trick, with a shaken Republic manager Martin O’Neill admitting after the final whistle: “We were well beaten.”
Eriksen’s three goals took his tally for the campaign to 11 goals, just two fewer than the Republic managed in their 12 games.
James McClean had a chance to put Ireland 2-0 in the first half but he was as stunned as anyone by Ireland’s subsequent collapse.
“They were just better than us... I don’t know what to say... I am just devastated,” said the West Brom winger.
Two avoidable goals in three mad minutes gave the Danes a 2-1 half-time lead before Martin O’Neill, a manager not known for gambling, withdrew both his central midfielders at half-time, explaining afterwards: “There’s no point dying wondering. We had to get two goals back.
“The two [first half] goals we conceded were so, so sloppy,” the manager said. “The next goal is a comedy of mistakes. In a game of such importance, the whole mindset changes when you are 2-1 down inside a couple of minutes when perhaps you might have been 2-0 up.”
However, the absence of skipper David Meyler or Harry Arter was manifestly evident as Eriksen picked up scraps on the edge of the Irish area to score a third.
Another defensive howler gifted him his hat-trick and Ireland’s humiliation was complete in injury time when Nicklas Bendtner converted a penalty.
“Humiliation?,” frowned O’Neill afterwards, his RTÉ interview adding insult to injury. “We were well beaten.”
But somehow it felt much worse than a beating.
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