Ireland's best performance of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign came in the final game of the group, as Ireland drew 1-1 with Denmark at the Aviva; you might say that Mick McCarthy’s learning curve is complete.

Thrown in at the deep end for this second coming as national team manager, McCarthy had to hit the ground running as he started into an eight-game campaign.

Without even a friendly to test the water, McCarthy was, at least, given a helping hand thanks to a carefully constructed fixture list.

The campaign would start in Gibraltar, followed by a home game against Georgia, with the intention of putting six points on the board in March, with the tougher games planned for when McCarthy had established a more settled side.

But when the wind howled a gale in Gibraltar and Ireland huffed and puffed their way to a fortuitous 1-0 victory, the road ahead always looked like it would be a rocky one.

The manager’s brief was simple - qualify for the Euros - yet complicated, by the fact that the FAI decided to reveal that Stephen Kenny would take over from McCarthy following the European Championships, irrespective of how the campaign went.

McCarthy got on with it.

But with no time to blood new players, the manager stuck with the experienced crew and set about building a team that he considered best qualified to guide Ireland through to the 2020 event.

The six points were procured, but there were issues from the outset, initially around the inability to find a place for Matt Doherty in the side, while a two-goal return in those opening two games also raised concerns.

Doherty, of course, started that first game in a wide right position, but the manager hauled him off early in the second half and bluntly stated after the game that captain Seamus Coleman and Doherty were unlikely to start again in the same side.

The performance at home to Georgia did instil confidence, followed up by a spirited outing in Denmark to take home a point against one of the top seeds.

Three further points at home to Gibraltar and Ireland were flying high on top of the group with three wins and a draw, yet perhaps papering over the many obvious cracks, most notably the fact that Ireland were not great in possession, while also a real lack of goalscoring chances was worrying.

Gibraltar would end up with a -28 goal difference and the fact that Ireland only contributed three of those paints a picture of how the campaign would play out.

Three poor performances would follow as Ireland yielded just two points from a double header with Switzerland and an away day in Georgia.

McCarthy’s tried and trusted now looked tired and perhaps rusty, as the manager himself would blame the players for their inability to hold onto the ball.

Below-par performances from senior players left the manager scratching his head as he chopped and changed in midfield, before his final role of the dice appeared to be when he threw teenage prospect Aaron Connolly into the mix.

A fine cameo in Tbilisi from the young Galway man but then to start the striker in Switzerland without any obvious game-plan, showed that the Ireland were running out of options as the campaign came to a conclusion.

Two friendly games appeared nothing more than an inconvenience for the manager, however, both matches showcased the benefit of playing possession football.

Victories against Bulgaria and New Zealand yielded six goals, albeit from the second string, but a sense prevailed that McCarthy was looking for more composure in his side giving hope to players like Jack Byrne and Josh Cullen.

Doherty would finally get to start a game in his preferred position at right back, as captain Coleman was suspended for the must-win clash with Denmark, and despite the lapse in concentration for the Denmark goal, the Wolves man played with passion and power, confidence and composure.

Another new formation allowed the manager to find a place for Jeff Hendrick in his side, while making sure the central midfield remained solid, while he also resisted the temptation to start Callum Robinson wide left, even though McCarthy said before the game that he sees that as the Sheffield United man’s best position.

James McClean brings a unique quality to every Ireland international with his firebrand approach to every game and there is none prouder to pull on the green.

But with Enda Stevens running that left flank with real authority, as he has been all season in the English top flight with Sheffield United, was there really a need for the Stoke City winger?

McCarthy, no doubt, weighed up the pros and cons of starting McClean and perhaps went with his heart knowing that it was going to be a really emotional night in Dublin for the visit of the Danes.

And so it would prove, as Ireland played their best football of the campaign against a strong, powerful and technically sound opposition.

But despite the excellent showing, a more thorough post-mortem of the performance will show that Ireland were not composed enough in the final third, delivery into the box was not at a high enough standard, while Hendrick was perhaps the wrong man to play with his back to goal.

If Ireland want to work the ball into goalscoring chances, they must have an alternative to throwing hopeful balls across the face, while getting numbers in the box.

As it transpired, there was no place for a Jack Byrne, an Alan Judge or even a Josh Cullen to come into the game for the final push, when calm heads were really needed.

Once Denmark scored, it was always going to get a bit gung-ho and with the John Egan replacement happening at half-time, maybe McCarthy’s hand was forced, as he was always anxious to get Robinson on the pitch, while Sean Maguire’s efforts against New Zealand also made his introduction an obvious choice.

Looking ahead to the play-offs, the manager does appear to be in a much stronger position than he was when he took over the reins for the second time.

"I have three months to prepare for that. We’ll see who we get and I’ll plan for it when we get it," said McCarthy after the game.

Club form will dictate many aspects of how McCarthy sees the March match, or hopefully matches, but the template for the next game really must be a carbon copy of how the team approached the clash against Denmark.

The March play-offs bring knock-out football into the equation as UEFA have opted for semi-final, final scenarios instead of the more traditional two-legged affairs.

And for the manager, knock-out football takes on an even greater significance, because if he loses either game, the curtain looks set to come down on his tenure in charge.