Euro 2012: St Ledger insists ref justice hard to swallow
Irish delusions of grandeur seep slowly into the mixed zone.
Simon Cox, perhaps unnerved by his unusual deployment, on Irish duty at least, on the left wing, chases reality from the room with remarkable aplomb.
"We'll take positives from the result and we'll pick ourselves up for the Spain game," says the West Brom man.
Positives? If reality is biting, it does so with a gummy grip.
Ireland seek refuge in railing against officialdom, but it cannot hope to mask their own deficiencies.
Croatia was supposed to be the least difficult of Ireland's unholy trinity of difficult group assignments. Now the mountainous task represents a series of almost impossibly assailable Himalayan peaks.
While the manager bleated vainly about offside for Croatia's second goal, Ireland's lone goalscorer, on a depressing night when harsh realities hit home, blasted the officials for failing to spot a foul on Stephen Ward in the same movement's build-up.
"With five officials, not one of them spotted the foul on Ward -- and he (Nikica Jelavic) was offside in the first place," exploded Sean St Ledger. Ward issued an alibi for referee Bjorn Kuipers: "Maybe I didn't go down theatrically."
"It's frustrating," added St Ledger. "It's annoying -- it's everything you can think of. We go out and try to do our jobs and there are five officials and they still can't do their jobs properly. There's no reason why Stephen is going to kick a ball that way unless he has been fouled."
His goal will be a personal memento to be cherished, but the collective implosion will dilute the reward. "It was great to get the goal," he said, despite the phantom whistler who stymied the celebration for a second.
"Usually I stay back for free-kicks but I went forward this time and I scored. I thought it was offside for a minute. There were a few whistles. I actually stopped at the end thinking it was full-time. It's something that needs to be looked at."
Captain Robbie Keane was more eloquent off the pitch than he had been at any time on it.
"Stephen Ward was definitely kicked. And even before that, Jelavic was offside. And it was a definitely penalty, no question.
"Maybe the referee had it in the back of his mind that they had a player on the ground and the game continued."
As he tempered his temper, a measure of reality kicked in.
"We didn't play as well as we can. We didn't create many chances apart from last couple of minutes and in open play we didn't really stretch them. They moved the ball better than us, but they didn't outplay us."
Keith Andrews, who had two fine chances late on to retrieve some of the damage, mercifully refused to take some succour from the belated, pyrrhic fightback.
Instead, he sought to harbour unlikely ambitions of a Lazarus-like comeback against Group C heavyweights Spain and Italy.
"We need two performances, it's as simple as that. We need to perform. We need to get at teams, get right into them.
"We need to bounce back from this, we're very deflated but we need to perform, but we'll look to regroup tomorrow. We'll have a good chat, see where we went wrong, watch the video and see how we can put things right. We came close on a couple of occasions late on but the game was probably done by then."
And so will Ireland's prospects in these championships should they lose on Thursday to the world and the European champions.