Tears shed for Ireland u-17s after agony of shocking penalty ending
Ireland U-17 1 Holland U-17 1 (Holland win 5-4 on penalties)
It was close to 10pm when the Irish team bus pulled out of Chesterfield last night. Tears had been shed before its departure.
Manager Colin O'Brien sat in the front row, scrolling through his phone, as he waited for the stragglers to emerge from a bitterly disappointed dressing room.
Ireland have been eliminated in bizarre, controversial fashion at the U17 Euros after goalkeeper Jimmy Corcoran was shown a second yellow card for moving off his line too early during the penalty shootout https://t.co/O48xsGehPh pic.twitter.com/yroYmS84ca— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) May 14, 2018
The plan was that this European Championship campaign would put his U-17 team on the map. But he sensed that his team had become big news for strange and inexplicable reasons.
"These players all have big careers ahead of them and they're going to a face a cruel world," said O'Brien. "That's the way football is. It's just terrible the way it had to finish tonight."
The Corkman had mastered understatement. It was the raw emotion in the aftermath of the final whistle that summed up the Irish mood.
Senior manager Martin O'Neill was even moved to leave his seat in the stand and approach Czech match official Zbynek Proske about the shocking end to a penalty shoot-out that culminated with the dismissal of Irish goalkeeper Jimmy Corcoran before the Dutch stuck away a retaken penalty to advance to the semi-finals.
With the shoot-out at 4-4 - Troy Parrott, Max Murphy, Jason Knight and Callum Thompson had converted for Ireland after Adam Idah missed their first effort - Holland's Daishawn Redan had the opportunity to secure progression after a tense 80-minute affair had finished 1-1.
His effort was blocked by Corcoran whose celebrations were short-lived. Proske said he had encroached from his line and produced a second yellow for a player that had earlier received a caution for time-wasting. The Irish felt that was harsh too.
With substitutions not permitted during a shoot-out, Ireland centre-half Oisín McEntee went into nets. Redan, a highly regarded Chelsea attacker, made no mistake second time around.
O'Brien and his Dutch counterpart Kees van Wonderen both said that the referee had spoken to both goalkeepers before the spot-kicks and told them a yellow was now the sanction for coming off their line.
What irked the Irish camp is that Holland's goalkeeper had received two warnings - including for his stop from Idah - before Corcoran paid the penalty, so to speak.
Irish officials sought to clarify if the Cherry Orchard keeper had been guilty of dissent, yet they were assured that was not the case. This was a letter of the law issue; the timing was brutal. Van Wonderen admitted it was cruel and paid tribute to Ireland's "wall of warriors".
Certainly, when there's a school of thought that development is as important as results at underage level, this was a curious lesson for Ireland's players to learn. They left feeling a terrible sense of injustice.
A year ago, O'Brien's side exited this tournament after being comprehensively beaten by a German outfit that was superior in every department.
This Dutch group had brushed Germany aside en route to this encounter at Chesterfield's ProAct stadium. By scoring seven goals without reply in their three games, they came into this match with a fearsome reputation.
Ireland pushed them all the way, and O'Brien hinted at a niggling sense that his team didn't actually hit their peak levels.
Their game-plan was about limiting Dutch space, and they were disciplined in that rearguard.
With the carrot of a meeting with hosts England in Thursday's semi-final as the reward, this was the biggest game of the Irish players' young lives. They put their heart and soul into it, even if they spent most of the first half maintaining a solid shape and trying to keep the Dutch at arm's length.
The majority of the green shirts were strangers to the opposing half with lone striker Idah isolated for spells. O'Brien's charges came to England as top seeds because they were dominant in the various qualifying phases but this was a role reversal; it was like watching the senior team grapple with elite opponents.
But they got better as the minutes ticked by. Indeed, the trigger was falling behind to a Liam van Gelderen header from a 62nd-minute corner.
The concession released the shackles from Ireland, and the response was deeply impressive. Idah set the tone from the front and Parrott showed a willingness to get forward and support him. Derby's Jason Knight also rose to the challenge.
Belvedere product Parrott notched his third of the competition in classy fashion, controlling a cross into the path of Barry Coffey and then meeting the return pass with a superb right-footer into the bottom corner. The 16-year-old will be eligible next year when Ireland are the hosts. His development in the next 12 months will be fascinating.
Ireland gained confidence from the strike and, in truth, they were more comfortable in the last 20 than they were in the first 20. Indeed, both benches made changes at the end with a view to the shoot-out drama that was set to follow.
Nobody was prepared for what was coming next.
IRELAND - Corcoran (Cherry Orchard), Murphy (Stoke), Collins (Stoke) McEntee (Newcastle), Ledwidge (Southampton); Knight (Derby), Coffey (Celtic); Wright (Aston Villa) Parrott (Spurs), Thompson (Wolves); Idah (Norwich) Subs: O'Reilly (Preston) for Wright (80 mins).
HOLLAND - Koorevar (Feyenoord), Q Maduro (Ajax), J Maduro (Ajax), Van Gelderen (Ajax), Hendriks (Feyenoord); Franken (AZ), Burger (Feyenoord); Summerville (Feyenoord), Ihatteren (PSV), Tavsan (Sparta Rotterdam); Redan (Chelsea) Subs: Brobbey (Ajax) for Taysan (50), Mamengi (Utrecht) for Q Maduro (80).
REF - Z Proske (Czech Republic)