Belfast Telegraph

Martin O'Neill gets Republic of Ireland off to a flyer with 3-0 demolition of Latvia

Martin O'Neill enjoyed a dream start to his reign as Republic of Ireland manager as Robbie Keane sparked a 3-0 demolition of Latvia.

O'Neill described the evening as an "exhilarating night" – although he sounded a note of caution looking ahead.

"I am delighted with the team and with the performance," said the former Northern Ireland skipper.

"We have got sterner tests ahead – we know that – but it is nice to win and we played some good football too. It was an exhilarating night for us.

"We could have scored a few more but overall I am delighted with the team," added the Ulsterman, whose side are away to Poland in another friendly on Tuesday.

Defender John O'Shea described the opening days of the tenure of managerial duo Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane as "very positive".

Robbie Keane, Aiden McGeady and Shane Long were on target as O'Neill and Keane's opening game in charge ended well.

It was an ideal start to the new era following the exit of Giovanni Trapatonni and O'Shea said: "It was a positive start. (It has all been) very positive: they are two natural winners and want the game played the right way.

"They know when we have to work hard, and press teams when we have to, and play when we have to."

The 33-year-old extended his senior international goal tally to 62 just 22 minutes into O'Neill's first game at the helm, prompting namesake and assistant manager Roy Keane to punch the air in delight before returning to his seat on the bench.

McGeady, who prospered under the Ulsterman during his time in charge at Celtic, extended the lead with a well-taken second 22 minutes from time, just his third goal in 62 senior appearances for his country.

The pair were applauded warmly when they made way with 17 minutes remaining by a crowd who had turned up to witness the dawn of a new era and were given just what they wanted to see.

But there was more to come and substitute Shane Long capped a convincing performance with a 79th-minute third as the Latvians wilted in the face of a concerted assault.

O'Neill made six changes to the side sent out by Noel King in last month's final World Cup qualifier, a 3-1 victory over Kazakhstan, and the Republic, ranked 60th by Fifa, were simply too strong for 117th-placed Latvia.

Indeed, had it not been for keeper Andris Vanins, the lead could have been significantly greater by the time the half-time whistle sounded with Keane heading to the dressing room knowing on another night he could have been doing so with a hat-trick to his name.

There were plenty of pluses for O'Neill and his number two, few more pleasing than the contribution of former Derry City winger James McClean – he set up the opener – who once again looked like the player who burst on to the Barclays Premier League scene in the weeks immediately after the manager's arrival at Sunderland.

The appointment of O'Neill and Keane has captured the imagination of a public which had grown weary of Trapattoni's conservatism, but O'Neill acknowledged in his pre-match press conference that the honeymoon period would last only '10 minutes'.

He may have been unduly pessimistic in his assessment, but he knows only performances and ultimately results will determine the success or otherwise of his mission, and the early signs are promising.

The presence of playmaker Wes Hoolahan in his starting line-up, as well as that of wingers McGeady and Derry-born McClean, was a statement of intent, and one which was warmly welcomed by the home supporters.

The two wide men ran repeatedly at the Latvia defence, while Hoolahan exploited the space in between the visitors' defensive and midfield lines to good effect as the Republic dominated.

So just the start that O'Neill and his right hand man Keane needed.

The Republic's new era has well and truly started.

Belfast Telegraph


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