DUBLIN (Reuters) - Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane’s task of bringing back the good times started encouragingly on Friday with a 3-0 friendly win for Ireland against Latvia that capped a whirlwind 10 days since the pair took charge.
The arrival of new manager O’Neill and his assistant has dominated the front and back pages of the newspapers with former Ireland captain Keane’s first news conference this week packed with foreign journalists and broadcast live on three TV channels.
The home side triumphed with goals from Robbie Keane, Aiden McGeady and Shane Long but, almost as importantly, they played the kind of attacking football the Dublin fans have been begging for.
“I was really excited last night, excited this morning,” O’Neill told a news conference. “I’m absolutely delighted with the performance, delighted with the attitude and delighted with the crowd’s response.
“I accept the fact there will be sterner tests but it’s nice to win, nice to play well and nice to score three goals. We’ve a lot of hard work ahead of us - it’s just the start.”
The former Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland manager, who received a loud ovation when he followed the team on to the pitch, has promised more attractive football.
His side made an encouraging start with James McCarthy and Wes Hoolihan producing some tidy passing in midfield.
It took 21 minutes for Los Angeles Galaxy striker Keane to turn in a James McClean flick from a corner to give Ireland the lead, bringing his smiling namesake to his feet on the bench.
Having failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil under the conservative Giovanni Trapattoni, O’Neill’s more fluent approach continued throughout albeit against an outclassed Latvian side ranked 57 places below Ireland at 117th in the world.
The hosts also harried impressively when they were without the ball and some persistent closing down of the Latvian defense led to the second goal as McGeady drilled a shot into the bottom corner of the net from outside the box on 67 minutes.
Another speedy counter attack brought the third goal minutes later, substitute Jon Walters laying on a perfectly weighted pass to the onrushing Seamus Coleman whose cross gave Long, also just on as a replacement, the easiest of finishes.
The crowd of 37,100, almost twice that of last month’s Kazakhstan game and with some wearing ‘Bad Cop’, ‘Bad Bad Cop’ T-shirts in reference to O’Neill’s assessment of the pair’s likely managerial style, gave the team a standing ovation at the end.
After writing in the match program that he knew first-hand how the Irish team’s success could drive the passion of everyone in the country, O’Neill and his number two Keane have begun the task of bringing the excitement back.
“That’s why we came here, it’s good to come back and see Roy the Boy,” said supporter Brian Hall who traveled to Dublin from the western county of Mayo with his young son to attend his first Ireland match in seven years.
“There’s a great buzz, the pubs seem to be packed and there’s just a big feel good factor around.”
Ireland defender John O’Shea said O’Neill and Keane wanted to play the game the right way.
“They are two natural winners,” added O’Shea. “They know when we have to work hard and press teams, and also when we have to play.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez