THERE was pain etched visibly across Matt Doherty’s face as he discussed what should have been one of the biggest days in his professional career.
The Swords native had just scored his first international goal – on his tenth appearance – to salvage a 1-1 draw at home to Denmark, but it was in vain as it was win or bust for Mick McCarthy’s side.
Doherty stole in at the back post to nod home fellow Dubliner Enda Steven’s deep cross with five minutes remaining to set up a grandstand finish.
Denmark winger Martin Braithwaite had 12 minutes earlier put the Danes in front against the run of play when he stabbed home a Pierre Hojbjerg cross.
It was a harsh lesson in the ruthlessness of international football for the Boys in Green, who had been on top for large parts of the game only to concede to Denmark’s one and only chance.
Ireland, without being outstanding, had controlled most of the game and passed the ball well, particularly when the Danes began to retreat in the second half.
Doherty himself was central to what had become an increasingly confident and assured performance from a side who have struggled at times in the campaign.
He was less conspicuous during the first half, but Ireland created a succession of chances late in the half after the Danes had lost Thomas Delaney and Andreas Cornelius to injury.
Conor Hourihane missed the best chance of the half for Ireland after he was played through on goal, while Alan Browne and David McGoldrick also went close.
Disaster struck when Braithwaite stole a march on Doherty and was played onside by Duffy to touch home the opening goal.
Ireland rocked back and deservedly found their leveller when Doherty pounced, but it wasn’t enough as a March play-off awaits.
“It’s sickening, to be honest,” said Doherty following the final whistle.
“I thought we played well and definitely deserved to win the game. They had one chance and managed to score.
“We were probably the better team and played some really good stuff. It’s pretty flat [in the dressing room]. Not much is being said. We know we still have March to go.”
He added: “You want to stay in the game as long as possible and pile the pressure on towards the end. Unfortunately we did that when we were 1-0 down.
“We were pretty comfortable, played out from the back, our shape was good and our movement was good. We were definitely in the ascendancy and the momentum was with us.
“We have good players. Everybody’s in form and confident we can play out from the back like we did in the first half especially. In the second half, there was no real panic.
“They were playing long balls and even heading them down to our players. I don’t know how it looked but I thought we were playing pretty good and were composed.
“It felt good and it felt like everything would fall into place but it wasn’t our night.”