It was just of 5pm local time, four hours before kick-off, when an open-topped party bus stopped in traffic outside the Ireland team’s hotel in the centre of Copenhagen. The music was blaring — Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas singing about her “lovely lady lumps”, in case you were wondering — and the two dozen or so women on board were in fine spirits. Maybe even sipping on a few, too.
The dining room for Mick McCarthy’s squad overlooked the main street from a few floors up and it would have been impossible for them not to have heard — or seen — the raucous scenes. Indeed, more than a few bodies in their luminous green training gear could be seen coming to the window.
Women danced arm in arm up the aisles, swaying together and jumping up and down. It just seemed like the ideal way to blow off a bit of steam of a Friday evening. Shane Duffy’s powerful 85th-minute headed equaliser, cancelling out Denmark substitute Pierre Emile Hojberg’s glancing effort nine minutes previously, ensured that party kept going for the couple of thousand Ireland fans in the Danish.
Ireland’s resistance had been broken and, as the the plastic pint glasses of beer rained down on the pitch, Mick McCarthy’s grand scheme went up in smoke. Until Duffy had his say. It was just reward for his individual contribution on a night when it wasn’t just backs, but heads, shoulders, knees and toes against the wall.
It took less than one minute to see what Ireland’s intentions were here. For the best part of two weeks, manager and players spoke about being aggressive, on the front foot and trying to press the Danes as high up the pitch as possible.
Inside those opening 60 seconds we saw Ireland’s pack mentality in force. James McClean, David McGoldrick and the supporting Conor Hourihane from the centre of midfield all hounded right back Henrik Dalsgaard and the centre back on that side, captain Simon Kjaer.
Then, when a McGoldrick attempt at a sliding ball through for Robbie Brady on the left rolled out play, Duffy and Glenn Whelan stepped up to roar instructions at the men in front with gestures to close the space around both full backs.
The issue was Denmark’s ability, primarily thanks to the excellent Lasse Schone, to beat the Ireland press with sharp passing and interplay. Yussuf Poulsen — name-checked by McCarthy earlier in the week as a threat coming inside off the right flank — helped keep their attacks flowing, as did Martin Braithwaite in similar fashion on the other side.
It was in the final third, though, that they struggled to get past an Ireland defence marshalled superbly by Duffy. McCarthy’s ability to adapt his plan proved crucial to quelling the threat in behind.
Hourihane dropped 10-15 yards deeper to get closer to Whelan in the centre, while at the same time offering more protection for McClean and Enda Stevens on the left.
Denmark then only showed sporadic signs of danger with the opening 45 minutes ending in stalemate. McCarthy made it clear in the build up that he would take a 0-0 and he was halfway there.
This, as has been well discussed previously, was the fifth time these two sides have played each other in competitive action over the last 18 months, but only one of those games holds any place in the memory. The 5-1 World Cup play-off defeat in November 2017 will be a constant reference point for anguish in the history of Irish football, as opposed to the three 0-0 draws.
You can chalk up a fourth draw now, and maybe just save everyone the hassle of enduring more of the same for the return in Dublin by calling it a draw.
While seven of the Danish starting XI from that bitter night in Dublin retained their places in Age Hareide’s side here, and a further two made the leap from substitutes bench to bring the total to nine who were involved previously, it definitely felt like a different Ireland, one that should not be bound by any mental scars, that they were facing.
Duffy was the only defender still involved and the upheaval has been drastic. McCarthy, of course, has replaced Martin O’Neill as manager, while Hourihane, Stevens, Richard Keogh, Whelan and McGoldrick have become prime figures in the set-up.
The one pulling the strings from the touchline, McCarthy, had to gamble for that final quarter of an hour once the Danes took the lead. Striker Scott Hogan replaced Hourihane, but it was the solid
figure of Duffy who provided the moment of ecstasy, meeting Coleman’s free kick like a bullet train.
Now, the party bus rolls on for Ireland. Surely Gibraltar can’t puncture the positive vibes on Monday?