It wasn’t easy to decipher which was more unlikely to actually happen but the players themselves were left unaffected by such flights of fancy. Feelings of regrets rather than thoughts of reprieve were uppermost in their minds.
None more so than Damien Duff.
Like Keith Andrews, the Fulham winger dissolved into tears after the second period of extra-time came to a conclusion two days ago but that sense of sadness was quickly engulfed by a bout of indignation.
“If it was down the other end, maybe we wouldn’t be complaining,” Duff said, “but the whole world has seen what happened, every man and his dog. I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, it’s just a joke. The lads are devastated.
“It’s reminiscent of Maradona in ‘86. We feel so cheated. We were the best team all night by a mile. Even going into penalties, we would have been confident. We felt their heads were gone, even in the first half.”
Asked if there was a conspiracy at play, Duff was even more forthright.
“Definitely. The boss said don’t give the refs every reason. Adidas sponsor the World Cup, they sponsor France,” added the player who is himself a brand ambassador for the German giants. “Michel Platini has a lot of influence as well.
“Maybe we’d have had a better chance of going to the World Cup if it was sponsored by Umbro. We might have got the decision. That’s the way the world goes around at the minute. FIFA have to take a long hard look at themselves.
“The (seeding) draw, and then the decision (in Paris). Incredible.”
Duff may have been spreading the blame about liberally but one man to escape his ire was Thierry Henry whose blatant handball it was that sent Ireland staggering away from the Stade de France in a benumbed daze.
Many a column has already been written about how that one action will forever cloud the Barcelona’s striker’s career but, like all the Irish players, Duff was of the belief that the Swedish referee and FIFA were the only ones worthy of blame.
“I don’t think you can say that (about Henry’s career),’’ Duff explained. “If it was down the other end and it was going out of play, I’d have chanced my arm. You can’t blame him. He’s a clever player but you expect the ref to see it. It was so blatant.”
The result is that a group of players that could, and should, be anticipating an appearance in South Africa next summer may now begin to fragment because of the advancing years among many of their number.
The likes of Duff and Robbie Keane may never contest another World Cup.
At 33, Kevin Kilbane certainly won’t but the Hull City player hasn’t yet ruled out the possibility of sticking around for the next European campaign.
“I don’t know, I’ll speak to Mr Trapattoni and I’ll speak to Liam Brady over the next few weeks and probably make a decision then,’’ he said.
Robbie Keane was another Irish player to find himself fielding questions about the future and what it might bring and, understandably, it was a topic which he struggled to get his head around at the time in the wee small hours after the game itself.
“I can’t speak for the rest of the players, but the senior players – it probably would have been my last World Cup. It’s very hard to speak about things now and what the future is because we have just finished the game and all the lads are obviously upset but we will just keep our heads up and look forward to the future.’’
Once the indignation dissipates, the overwhelming emotion for Keane, Giovanni Trapattoni and the rest of this Irish team will be one of pride after a campaign when they stood toe-to-toe with the 2006 World Cup winners and runners-up.
“We can keep our heads up because of the manner of how we played,” said Keane. “The most important thing is to never let yourself down and do as well as you can on the pitch for the country.
“Every one of those players, and the subs who came on as well, played a massive part. As captain, I am very proud to be a apart of this team and just gutted that we didn’t make it to the end.”