Ireland were drab, inept and without ambition, but this is as good as it gets right now
If Ireland are looking for a new rallying cry, they might be tempted by, 'It could have been worse.'
This was a game of all-encompassing mediocrity. Ireland were inept, toothless and played without ambition. Martin O’Neill will probably take it.
At the end, Ireland furiously attacked as if the win was something that was always on their minds and they had just been waiting for the right moment to pounce.
In the final seconds, Shane Duffy was booked for a ludicrous dive as Ireland looked for a penalty and the crowd booed as if some kind of injustice had taken place.
They had suffered an injustice alright: they had just watched one of the worst football matches they will ever see which offered little for Ireland to be hopeful about in the future but did enough to ensure the manager and assistant will remain in charge. None of this is a cause for celebration.
In truth, this frenetic last few minutes came as a shock. There had been few indications previously that Ireland were looking to win
Ireland, in this grim time in their football history, have no greater ambition than to be ordinary and not to get laughed out of town, as had happened in the World Cup play-off last November and in Cardiff last month.
O’Neill insisted on Friday that he was looking forward to the European Championship qualifiers when “the players who would be top players for us would be available again”.
This might be overstating the strength of the missing players and O’Neill may be in a minority in looking forward to the qualifiers.
Ireland’s manager had gone into the game with headlines stating he had two games to save his job so he could be forgiven if he was content with a scoreless draw.
If this is a grim time in Ireland’s football history, it is not O’Neill’s finest time of his management career. He may feel content that Ireland can move on to another game without the sense of drama that accompanied their last defeat.
If Ireland play the same way against Wales on Tuesday night, people will be too bored to be angry.
From the moment, Jeff Hendrick elegantly swept the ball wide after playing on when Denmark had stopped thinking Harry Arter needed treatment, it was clear that Ireland would not be making it easy for themselves.
It was also revealing that Ireland’s best chance came when the opposition weren’t actually playing, and it was equally revealing that Ireland still missed it.
The excitement at Ireland matches these days often comes from figuring out just exactly where O’Neill’s players they’re supposed to be playing and what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s a thrill that often seems to bring players, supporters and the media together as they try to solve the mystery.
With Cyrus Christie, Harry Arter, Callum O’Dowda and Hendrick in midfield, this was the challenge that allowed many to pass the time, but it didn’t pass enough of it. Eventually, we’ll be forced to watch the game again.
James McClean started the game as wing-back and quickly gave away a free-kick, but Hendrick’s miss was Ireland’s best chance. Nothing would ever be as good again
The FAI had said on Friday that 46,000 tickets for the game were ‘gone’. While the stadium filled up just before kick-off, it was still say to wonder where exactly they had gone.
No matter, a free ticket for an Ireland match doesn't necessarily ensure attendance. There is the opportunity cost to consider, the idea that many would have had in the stadium that this was a couple of hours they wouldn’t be getting back and if they could get them back, would they really want them? Certainly nobody would want to sit through this again.
Denmark spent much of the second half just playing the game out. When Cyrus Christie’s shot was saved by Kasper Schmeichel the home crowd was lifted but the players couldn’t sustain that hopefulness until those last minutes.
The sight of Shane Long sprinting for a ball that was always going to go out of play seemed to sum up the cohesive approach of the Ireland team.
Under O’Neill, Ireland have looked like a team with ambition when they went to Vienna and Cardiff and won, and beat Germany here.
Right now, those days are fading as a memory. Right now, Ireland look like a team content with mediocrity.