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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Ireland beat the Danes nil-nil... but really, it's only half time

Last night's nil-nil draw in Copenhagen counts as a victory of sorts. Roll on Tuesday, writes Declan Lynch

Harry Arter is shadowed closely by Denmark’s Andreas Cornelius in last night’s World Cup qualifier play-off in Copenhagen. Picture: Sportsfile
Harry Arter is shadowed closely by Denmark’s Andreas Cornelius in last night’s World Cup qualifier play-off in Copenhagen. Picture: Sportsfile
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Last night, near the end of the first half, George Hamilton said Ireland had been playing very well without the ball.

The whole Irish nation indeed had been playing very well without the ball, since the afternoon in Copenhagen, when a section of the Green Army had discovered that The Dubliner pub was situated close to the Victoria's Secret store.

And with a kind of a cultural and historical inevitability, there they decided to make their stand. Soon we were seeing pictures on balls.ie of a sophisticated young Danish couple emerging from the store, somehow retaining that innate poise of theirs while a large crowd of Irish people dressed in traditional costume roared with mirth at their predicament - ah, they thought they could just get in and out of Victoria's Secret without anybody knowing about it, those sexy Danes, and there waiting for them was none other than Paddy, by the hundred, by the score, chanting "ole ole ole ole…ole ole…ole ole ole ole…ole ole..."

We won that one, all ends up. And we won the game too, in a way, nil-nil.

Indeed some of those warriors of the Green Army had been playing very well without the ball since they arrived at Copenhagen airport and were given a free glass of beer, albeit in measures that they might have considered on the small side - no more than an aperitif really.

But it all adds up, and for a while at least it helps to kill the fear. This was the dominant theme of the night in the Parken Stadium - the fear that the lads might do something silly, with or without the ball, the fear that actually left us gibbering for a few terrible moments in the first half when Darren Randolph was first brilliant and then lucky, the constant underlying fear that Christian Eriksen might do something terrible to us, because he tends to play very well with or without the ball.

Eriksen had grown in our minds as a kind of a mythical creature, the one who possessed the secret code which could destroy us, a code which in ordinary terms is sometimes called "being very good at football".

No, we do not like these "technically gifted" lads like Eriksen, we do not like them at all - the way he might stand there hands on hips sizing up a free kick, his brilliant football mind quietly calculating the precise trajectory of the ball which, in his mind's eye, he is about to send over the wall and crashing into the Irish net.

He is even said to be the best free-kick taker "in the world", which is a bit rich for our blood.

On YouTube you can have "a free-kick tutorial with the Danish genius". You will get plenty from the Irish lads too, but you will get no tutorials.

Instead you were getting the odd charge up the field from James McClean and Cyrus Christie, which may actually have put fear into the Danes, knowing that this is what we do. In the most good-hearted way, we sort of hang around trying not to get into too much trouble for about 88 minutes, and then we try to strike with the force of a thousand suns.

The fact that, apart from Eriksen, the Danes also had names like Cornelius and Kvist and Bjelland, which will not be featuring on the short-list or even on the long-list for this year's Ballon D'Or, was also keeping our spirits high. We had quite an illustrious name in Callum O'Dowda - grandson of the singer Brendan O'Dowda, who performed on the soundtrack of the film Darby O'Gill and the Little People, and who in an ironic moment posed on the cover of an album called Typically Irish, hunkering down in a field, enjoying the company of four sheep. Darby O'Gill was a tale of a wily Irishman and his battle of wits with leprechauns, but this team doesn't really do battles of wits - with anyone.

Then again, international football these days does not bring us much in that line anyway, and so this Irish team can complete manfully with anyone, and will be competing until the end of this tie on Tuesday.

We brought on Shane Long, who is quite a good musician and thus someone who can play exceptionally well without the ball. But there was no appearance by Wes Hoolahan, and that amounts to a kind of a moral weakness as much as a footballing one.

Indeed it is the only moral weakness of this Ireland, the fact that in the last few minutes we will see Glenn Whelan coming off the bench and not Wes, not the little man who can do most of things that Eriksen can do, some of the time.

Towards the end Randolph saved from a header that sent another wave of the fear through us - and then it started to get ugly, the Danes swarming around our penalty area as the game went into injury time, hungry for that one beautiful goal that would have us seriously struggling at the Aviva.

They didn't get it. They were at home, battering away at us, and they didn't get it.

And despite the attractions of the away goal, that will have hurt them. Their people were looking good coming out of Victoria's Secret - but they have not yet unravelled Paddy's Secret.

Whatever it is.

Sunday Independent

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