Northmen, Southmen, comrades all start out on the road to France

Keane strikes first blow of O’Neill era

Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane shake hands after the win in the Aviva last night. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane shake hands after the win in the Aviva last night. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
The home team was under new management, but a little confusingly, it was also business as usual at Lansdowne Road last night. After all the hype about one Keane this week, it was the other who struck the first blow of the Martin O’Neill era, striker Robbie scoring the 62nd goal of a ludicrously prolific career.
In keeping with tradition, he then missed a couple he should have scored. So some things never change. But any danger of the Roy and Martin Laugh-In being spoiled on its debut disappeared when Aiden McGeady drilled home a second, and then Shane Long a third, to complete the rout.
By the time McGeady made way for Andy Reid, returning from the wilderness to resounding applause, the Aviva Stadium was in party mode, and a good-sized attendance was restoring the Lansdowne roar to something like its former glory.
All told, it was a pleasantly relaxed start to the post-Trapattoni regime. Irelandoutclassed a limited Latvian side, playing more dinky one-twos that we saw in the last two years of the ultra-cautious Italian.
Next to that, the most dramatic departure of the night was the spectacle of an Irish football pitch being watered heavily — in November! — at half time. Maybe it was because of the mild weather, and the rugby today.
Or maybe the ground staff were worried that the new Irish midfield would wear the grass out, unaccustomed as it has been in recent years to having much contact with the ball.
It also seemed significant that the first man of the match award of the O’Neill-Keane went to inveterate tweeter and Wolfe Tones fan James McClean. It won’t have been lost on McClean that the Ireland team and management now comprises Northmen, Southmen, comrades all/Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and Donegal — or near enough.
Anyway, he was clearly enjoying himself, even if his shots on goal still have a habit of ending up on the road to God knows where. As for the team in general, it’s too early to say where they’re headed, exactly. But for now, there are reasons for hope that it may be Euro 2016 in France.

Dream launch for the Dream Team as Ireland ease past Latvia

If it’s to be a journey of a thousand miles, this was no bad single step

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane celebrates a goal during the international friendly at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA.
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane celebrates a goal during the international friendly at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA.
By the end, it was hard to imagine how the opening week of Martin O’Neill’s tenure could have gone better. Life infused back into the Ireland set-up, the makings of a crowd – if not quite a crowd just yet – back in the Aviva and a 3-0 win tucked away. The goals came from Robbie Keane, Aiden McGeady and Shane Long – the curtain pulled up, the music started.
Before we go anywhere, the caveats. Steve Staunton’s reign started with a 3-0 win over a Sweden team that had far more going for it than the Latvian one who turned up in the Aviva last night.
O’Neill warned us afterwards his side won’t always be able to play the ball around with the ease they had last night. For all that, he couldn’t have asked for much more.

Sterner tests“I’m delighted,” he said. “Delighted with the team, delighted with the performance. I accept the fact that there are sterner tests ahead, of course we know that. There’s one on Tuesday night.
“But it was nice to win and we played some lovely football as well. And the crowd were terrific, so it was an exhilarating evening for us.
“The first goal was important, regardless of how we set out. . . When we got back down to it again, then we were absolutely fine. We scored three goals and we could have scored a few more.
“So overall, delighted with the team. We tried to press a wee bit further up the pitch so that the players in our team who can really play – and we have a one or two who can definitely do that – wouldn’t have too far to go to the opposition goal.”
And in more good news for O’Neill, Romania’s loss to Greece in last night’s World Cup play-off first leg should mean that Ireland will be second seeds for the qualifying stages of Euro 2016.
Latvia played like they knew their role, the play-dead tomato can lined up build confidence for the road ahead. They stood off, they half-tackled, they had no higher purpose in mind than limiting the damage.
Apart from a brief spell of defiance at the beginning of the second half, they presented no challenge. That they finished the night with just two attempts on goal tells its own story.
That Ireland finished with 20 tells an encouraging tale too. The side O’Neill sent out was full of intent and brio, with speed on the wings in James McClean and Aiden McGeady and craft inside in James McCarthy and Wes Hoolahan.
Andy Reid made an appearance for the last half an hour as well. Pick any cause célèbre you like from the Trap years and they got handed the reins at some point. At times it looked like a game that had been put on especially for McCarthy. He won’t find a team better set up to showcase his set of skills this side of his testimonial.

Sweet-spot volleyHe could have had a goal of his own a minute in, a sweet-spot volley from a half-cleared corner catching John O’Shea when it looked destined for the net.

Second Captains Football

More from Football

Chile goalscorer Alexis SanchezEngland 0 - 2 Chile

Watch video

Watch videoFootball Focus for PAEDO BBC World News