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Monday 21 May 2018

Sizzling Danes end our hopes

Despair for the Boys in Green as Eriksen hat-trick blows away World Cup dreams at the Aviva

Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill
A dejected Ireland fan at the Aviva
Shane Duffy looks distraught last night

After the dream start, came the 85-minute long nightmare.

Ireland's hopes of qualifying for the World Cup are well and truly over following a drubbing by the marauding Danes in the Aviva last night.

With Shane Duffy's goal in the first five minutes, our dreams of Russia 2018 looked as if they just might be realised.

However, the jubilation soon gave way to horror at Denmark's two goals in quick succession, then came the disbelief and deflation as the Danish goals just kept coming.

It was painful to watch. Humiliating. At 5-1, the Danes certainly brought home the bacon.

In his post-match pitch-side interview, an emotional James McClean looked shell-shocked.

"I don't know what to say. We shot ourselves. I don't know what to say," he said.

"It's been a long campaign and we just let ourselves down.

"I think they were just better," McClean said, before adding: "I'm just devastated."

The 50,000 fans, who had packed into the Aviva Stadium with such hope, knew how he felt.

Though many had left the crowd by full-time, those who stuck around sent their team - all of whom had heads in their hands - off the pitch with a rendition of The Fields of Athenry.

The game had begun so promisingly for the Boys in Green when Duffy headed his side into the lead.

Unfortunately, it all unravelled in a matter of minutes around the half-hour mark. From then on it all went one way - Denmark's.

Insult

A late Nicklas Bendtner penalty added insult to what was already a desperately sad finish to a campaign, which only last month had Irish supporters in raptures in Cardiff.

Last night was the first time Ireland had ever had the opportunity to progress to the World Cup on their own soil and supporters made damn sure they'd have no voices this morning.

The raspy tones were there long before kick-off, as the build-up naturally began for thousands with a sing-song on the Ballsbridge streets.

It was the only show in town last night - so much so that even President Michael D Higgins only had thoughts for football yesterday afternoon, he was calling for the team to "go for it a bit more up the top".

He'd have been delighted with the start, if he managed to get to his seat by the time Martin O'Neill's men scored.

From an Irish perspective, kitman Dick Redmond (famed for wearing the Superman outfit following qualification for Euro 2016) issued a rallying cry for the Aviva crowd.

"Massive game tonight. Full house. Going in to set up dressing room now. Hope whole country gets behind the team we can and we will win this game. Come on Ireland," he wrote on Twitter.

"Sing your hearts out tonight because believe you me the players will leave nothing in that dressing room.

Believe

"Every last ounce of energy will be spilled on that pitch tonight. These players believe. We believe. You believe. Come on Ireland."

The fans didn't need anyone to tell them, that's for sure.

Going into the ground, the 16-year wait for an appearance on the biggest footballing stage of all was playing on supporters' minds.

"I'm expecting the best atmosphere since the Germany game. I just think that we'll just about make it," said a hopeful Neil Moran, from Kingswood, Dublin.

"I might not see my house until next week if we manage to win," he added.

With tickets for the game in predictably short supply, the Irish even had to be creative with getting into the crowd.

Sporting red wigs and red scarves, Ken Fitzgibbon and his brother, Karl, headed for the Danish end of the Aviva Stadium.

"It's the only way we could get a ticket to get in. We'll be quiet, until we score," Ken said.

"The green is here, but we're hiding it."

In the midst of the chaos, however, the crowd was silenced - as the Danes scored twice in a matter of minutes and took pole position with 30 minutes gone.

It was a sucker punch that left the Boys in Green shell-shocked and on the brink of exit with more than an hour to go.

Many saw the possibility of two goals, but three was a tall order.

"Sing when you're winning," came from the Danish end of the ground. Any goodwill from pre-match was long gone.

Michelle O'Brien (26), from Limerick, arrived in Ballsbridge full of enthusiasm and expected a rough morning in work today, irrespective of the result.

"I've been very excited... We came up here straight after work, got out at two," Michelle said.

"Back down for work in the morning."

Sick

If the Boys in Green had got the win, however, a different plan of action was in the works - staying up in the city.

"Maybe, we'll see. I might call in sick tomorrow," she added.

Meanwhile, Amanda Kelly, her husband, Stephen Kelly, and mother, Phyllis Byrne, had only returned from Copenhagen on Monday night.

After booking flights for the away tie as soon as the draw was made, they were devastated to find out they had not qualified for tickets, despite going to five away games.

"We'd booked our flights, booked our hotel. We had five away matches but we needed six," Amanda said.

There was still a lot of fun over in the Danish capital, despite having to watch the match in a pub.

"It was good craic, in fairness, the Danes were nice. All the pubs and staff were sound," Stephen said.

He fancied an Ireland win pre-match.

Though Amanda had been less sure, letting the nerves set in.

"It's nerve-racking, I've been sick all day, physically sick," she said.

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