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

Robbie 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

Sat, Nov 16, 2013, 06:48

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. Ireland outclassed 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.

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