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

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - NEWS -

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 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.

‘They thought they could get out of Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret with­out any­body know­ing...’

UNDER PRES­SURE: Top left, Harry Arter is shad­owed closely by Den­mark’s An­dreas Cor­nelius in last night’s World Cup qual­i­fier play­off in Copen­hagen. Above, Cyrus Christie had some fine touches. Left, Ire­land man­ager Martin O’Neill with as­sis­tant Roy Keane at the Parken Sta­dium. Photos: Niall Car­son, An­drew Couldridge and Ram­sey Cardy

HERO OF THE HOUR: Goal­keeper Dar­ren Ran­dolph makes a vi­tal save in the clos­ing stages. Photo: Cather­ine Ivill

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