Darren Randolph has admitted his shock at the manner of the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup play-off nightmare.
Martin O’Neill’s men returned from Copenhagen on Saturday evening with a 0-0 draw and while knowing there was still a significant amount of work to be done, believing they had the upper hand in the tie.
Their fate was in their own hands when Shane Duffy headed them into a sixth-minute lead at the Aviva Stadium, but that was as good as it got as Denmark launched a blitz to run out 5-1 winners.
Randolph said: “It’s extremely disappointing, obviously. We didn’t see that coming whatsoever before the game.
“But it’s done now.”
Had Ireland managed to get to half-time with their lead intact, things might have been very different.
However, luck was against them when Andreas Christensen’s 29th-minute shot came back off the post, hit full-back Cyrus Christie on the line and ended up in the back of the net.
Worse was to follow just three minutes later when Stephen Ward gifted the ball to Yussuf Poulsen, who combined with fellow striker Nicolai Jorgensen to set up Eriksen to sweep the visitors into the lead.
Knowing that a score draw would be enough to send the Danes through, manager Martin O’Neill made a kill or cure decision at the break and ultimately ended up on the wrong side of the equation.
He removed defensive midfielders David Meyler and Harry Arter to send on the more creative Wes Hoolahan and Aiden McGeady, but the move left his side wide-open and the Danes exploited the extra space with relish.
Eriksen curled home his second of the night to put the game beyond Ireland and then completed his hat-trick with a rising drive after Ward had erred once again, and there was still time for substitute Nicklas Bendtner to leave his mark on the game by winning and converting a late penalty.
Randolph said: “We needed to try and get back into the game, so you’re going to leave yourself open. We got punished.
“They got two goals in quick succession, we had to go and do the same. But it obviously didn’t pan out that way. And then what happened, happened.”
As the Denmark players celebrated deliriously, the Aviva pitch was littered with disconsolate Irish bodies on a night when a dream finally died.
O’Neill later insisted they had done well even to make the play-offs having set out on the road to qualification as fourth seeds in Group D and eased themselves ahead of Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales as well as Austria to claim second spot.
The manager is well aware of the limitations of his squad, but insisted he would not allow them to “die wondering”.
He said after the game that he would speak to Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney about the contract extension he has already agreed verbally in the coming weeks, but gave little hint that anything has changed on that front, from his point of view at least.