Dream night that turned into an Irish nightmare

Right, here we go. Time to give the checklist a final once-over.

The frequently referenced hipstery Brooklyn Gin, whether for a victory toast afterwards or a consoling libation in defeat? Check.

Various betting slips covering various eventualities, among them the screamingly obvious scoreless draw at 4/1 on the basis that some kind of pecuniary reward will be obligatory for sitting through a second soul-sapping 0-0 in the space of four days? Check.

A couple of lines of cocaine, given that this could be a long night and that the longer it goes without a goal, the longer it’s likelier to get? Check. (Relax, dear reader and dear sub-editor. This is what’s known as artistic licence, or at any rate the pretext for a cheap gag. Your correspondent does not — repeat, not — have a line or two of white stuff chopped up on the table.)

The address of the downtown Moscow branch of Victoria’s Secret? No. Let’s not tempt fate or get ahead of ourselves just yet.

They’re upbeat in the RTÉ studio. Didi Hamann, doubtless conscious of the need to pay the piper, opts for Ireland on the grounds of their “huge belief”. Eamon Dunphy echoes him, but throws in the inevitable Wes caveat (“we need a playmaker, we need to be fluent”). Liam Brady predicts “a long evening”.

Five minutes in and Shane Duffy hits the net. It won’t be a long evening after all. Newspaper sports departments are on their feet in celebration at the impossibility of extra-time. It is also good news if, say, you cohabitate with a nice lady who is now in absolutely no fear of missing the wonderful Brendan Gleeson in Mr Mercedes on RTÉ1 at 10.10pm. The bad news for the rest of us is that 85 minutes remain and there are bound to be scares.

Darren Randolph saves well from Kvist, then from Sisto. Daryl Murphy and James McClean go close at the other end. “It’s a threat,” George Hamilton enthuses. “We didn’t have a threat in Denmark.”

The pendulum swings back. Sisto cuts in from the left, crosses and the ball is deflected into the Irish net. Who dunnit? Christie, of course. Verdict? Own goal while temporarily of unsound defending.

“There was always the danger when Ireland scored early that they were going to concede one,” George ruminates sadly. The conundrum that exercised him and the panel on Saturday night has been well and truly solved. A 0-0 away draw in the first leg is not

a good result.

Another Danish attack. Eriksen strokes it in via the crossbar. “Psychologically that’s huge,” George ruminates even more sadly. “This night is turning into a nightmare.” Ronnie Whelan is almost lost for words, but not quite. “Two goals that could have been avoided. So so simple.” Denmark were better than us, Liam is honest enough to observe at half-time. In a grievous blow to the nation, it’s looking as though the only Delaney who’ll be seen in Russia next summer is Thomas, not John. At least Saint Wesley is on for the second half. Take back that pencil, Eamon.

It soon emerges that Eriksen, Christian merely in name, is only getting started. Another sweet finish to make it 1-3 and then, following Stephen Ward’s error, a firm boot through the ball for 1-4. A lion devouring the metaphorical Christians. Okay, Mr Danish Manager, please take him off now, he has a big match next Saturday.

The evening is turning out to have all the charm of Mrs Corry Evans in a temper.

“Technically, they’re much better than us,” Ronnie laments, just as some FAI minion gets busy ringing the Dutch and Italian FAs to propose a triangular tournament next summer (probably) and a Bendtner penalty makes it 1-5.

George: “I think it’s fair to say the ignominy is complete.”

Yes, imagine letting Nicklas Bendtner score against you. The scoreless draw wasn’t so screamingly obvious, huh.

The post-mortem. Do you really want to know? You do?

Well, McClean is so upset he can barely talk, a semi-interview that Tony O’Donoghue handles with tact and sensitivity. Eamon himself looks tearful, though it doesn’t stop him from describing the result as “a humiliation” and deploring Martin O’Neill’s decision to withdraw Meyler and Arter at the interval, thereby denuding the back four of its shield.

“A ragged mess in the second half,” Liam ochóns. “A really sad night, because we’ve done very very well to get to this stage.”

To get to this stage, but no farther. There are three Victoria’s Secret outlets in Moscow, by the way. Not that it matters now.


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