As he parted from his media inquisitors, Ciaran Clark bemoaned the fleeting time he’d had with his family around the Sweden game.
“At least they saw you score at the Euros though,” came the reply from one of the fourth estate, bringing a smile from Clark’s reddened face.
Sometimes laughter is the best form of diplomacy.
Clark had performed admirably on Monday night, before and after his 71st minute own goal, but the unfortunate thing about sport is how the outstanding moments obscure the rest; good or bad.
In the first three questions put to Clark at the Versailles training ground, he casually avoided mentioning the own goal, giving the impression it was erased from his memory.
But while it felt like invading on personal grief, the negative effect — or otherwise — of such a pivotal moment, was worth measuring ahead of the challenge of Belgium on Saturday afternoon.
He spoke of a sleepless night in the aftermath of the encounter at the Stade de France, the desperate header past Darren Randolph “ticking over” in his head.
“But when you wake up the next day it’s gone, there is nothing you can do about it,” he said.
“It’s one of those things, what can someone say when it comes off you and goes in like that? When the ball comes into the box... any defender will say you’ve got to get your body in there and try to get the ball away.
“Unfortunately, for us it went into the bottom corner, which was devastating, but we can’t think about it now, we have just got to think about the positives and look forward to the Belgian game.”
Clark had plenty of support from within the Irish camp, with assistant boss Roy Keane admitting he hadn’t thought of the goal since the game on Monday night.
Here’s a little extra sport. Watch the latest BallTalk for the best sports chat and analysis: Good point? Bad point? How can Ireland capitalise on their draw against Sweden and who should start against Belgium?
“He didn’t kill anybody, these things happen,” Keane said. “Defenders get into position, a good delivery...we’ve seen it happen. If you hadn’t mentioned it, it hasn’t even crossed my mind, he’s a good lad, he’s done well for us.”
Fellow member of the defender’s union, Richard Keogh, approached Clark after the game, telling him he didn’t deserve the fate that had befallen him.
“I went up to him and said it was harsh because he played very well,” Keogh said.
“It was one of those things as a defender, the natural reaction is to just defend the ball. It was just unfortunate and if he missed it, I think there was a guy right behind him who would have tapped it home.”
The reflecting now over, Clark was eager to look ahead to Bordeaux, where the wounded Belgians lie in wait.
“We looked over it, the game in general, and we took the positives out of the game, I think we’ve got to try and do that,” Clark argued. “We’ve got another game and we’ve got to make sure we are fully prepared for that.”
Preparing for a star-studded opponent like Belgium is a step up from what might have been involved in the pre-match prep for a team as limited as Sweden.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the only world class player in yellow, Belgium have an almost unfair number of elite level players.
Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Yannick Carrasco, and Thomas Vermaelen are just some of the gems Marc Wilmots can call upon, but a danger lies in focusing too much on what the opposition brings.
“They’ve got a number of players that can play, haven’t they. They’ve got a top-class squad,” Clark said, before warning: “but we would be trying to concentrate on our own performance and trying to match what we put in against Sweden.
“We’ve got to concentrate on ourselves and we can cause them problems. I’m sure they’ll be worried about us as much as we’re worried about them.”
That is unlikely to be the case, but having faced many of Belgium’s stars at club level may mitigate against any potential fear factor.
Derby’s Keogh was up close and personal with Eden Hazard in a League Cup clash last season, and says Ireland’s players should relish the challenge.
“He’s very elusive, he likes to suck you into tight areas because his mobility is very good,” he said. “It’s not so much with the ball, it’s his body movement that throws you off because he is so sharp with the ball and he sends you one way and then the other. But that’s why you want to be at a major championships, to play against the best players in the world and Hazard is in that category. If you don’t want to play against those players, you shouldn’t be in the game.”
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