Martin O’Neill is too long in the tooth to read anything more than the obvious into a facile 3-0 win over a poor Latvian side at the Aviva Stadium, but as debuts go it will do just fine for the new Republic of Ireland manager.
Just a week after succeeding Giovanni Trapattoni as boss O’Neill was back in the dug-out with his new assistant Roy Keane at his side, as a near full Lansdowne Road applauded the dawn of a new era for Irish football.
It was Robbie Keane who offered O’Neill the perfect start with an early and well-taken goal, a trademark finish for the country’s leading goal scorer of all time.
Aiden McGeady, a Glasgow Celtic protégé of O’Neill, and Shane Long made sure of the win with second half goals, the former a fine long range effort and the latter a simple tap-in.
And O’Neill was thrilled to bits if quick to keep his own feet and everyone else’s on the ground afterwards.
Speaking after the Latvian win, O’Neill said, “I am absolutely delighted, delighted with the performance and delighted with the result, obviously.
“I accept the fact that there will be sterner tests ahead, of course, and one on Tuesday night against Poland, but it was nice to win, it was nice to play well, it was nice to get a few goals and I thought some of our play was terrific.
“I was concerned about the game beforehand, of course, but just getting that first goal was very important for us. Overall, I was delighted with the team, delighted with their attitude and delighted with the crowd’s response.”
There was a bonus twist to the tale for O’Neill when RTE informed him of Greece’s World Cup playoff win over Romania, a result that guarantees Ireland second seed status in the qualifying draw for the 2016 European Championships.
“If you tell me that that’s good news for us, I’ll accept it. I’m obviously happy with that if that’s the case, but I think there will be a lot of teams in the third seeds who will be every bit as strong as we will be. But every bit of good news is fine,” O’Neill said.
Widemen James McClean — man of the match incidentally — and McGeady were the stars of the show as they reminded their old club boss what they can do.
Captain Keane has been impressed with the input of O’Neill and his namesake Roy on the training ground and on match day over the past week.
“It’s been a great buzz for the last couple of weeks. Everybody is fairly excited about the changes that have happened, and when you have got two big characters like Roy and Martin involved in the set-up — in any set-up – it’s going to create a massive buzz,” Keane said.
“We are lucky that they are here and we look forward to working with them. This was a stepping-stone in the right direction.”