Ireland’s dynamic managerial duo got off to the best possible start last Friday night at the Aviva Stadium. Just as interest in the national football team was beginning to wane the FAI pulled not one, but two rabbits out of their magical hat.
O’Neill’s appointment and his subsequent appointment of one Roy Keane led to the meaningless friendly against Latvia become very meaningful indeed. Just as the FAI were seriously considering moving the match to the UCD Bowl, ticket sales began to suddenly pick up.
The word ‘positive’ isn’t something that one would usually associate with Irish football over the last number of years but it was the buzz word around Landsdowne Road last Friday. The players pressed, they passed, moved off the ball, always had options while in possession and crucially scored goals. More crucially perhaps, Wes Hoolahan started and played magnificently. Gliding past challenges and always looking to attack the opposition. You can’t help but think how much we missed out on him during Traps reign. We scored goals that we haven’t seen an Irish team score in a long time. It is still early days of course, but the team wasn’t reliant on set-pieces or Robbie Keane scoring from a flick on or a second ball. Last Friday we capitalised on the poor quality of the opposition, we caught them high up the pitch and then punished them. This is something that simply would not have happened under Trappatoni.
Straight from kick off it couldn’t have been clearer that our footballing style had changed. We’re not Spain, we’re Ireland and we know that, but surely there’s more to football than kicking it up the pitch and playing off scraps, especially against the Latvia’s of this world. On Friday last we were positive, and showed what we could do. Our first goal came from James McClean winning the ball on their 18-yard line; the ball broke to Robbie Keane who forced a corner. McClean won a flick on at the near post and Keane was on hand 6 yards out to claim his 62nd international goal
The second again arose from pressing high up the pitch. McClean supported by Whelan forced the error that broke to McGeady. His fine performance was capped off by drilling home from just outside the box. A number of substitutions followed after the lead had been extended to 2-0. Andy Reid, Shane Long and Jonathan Walters all entered the fray and all had a hand in the third and final goal. Reid sprayed the ball out to Walters with consummate ease with the outside of his left foot. Walters slipped in the superb Coleman who steamed up and down the line all night. He squared to Long, who tapped home for 3-0. A fine goal that iced the cake of a professional performance. 21 attempts, 10 on target, Latvia didn’t once trouble Westwood in goal. We dominated this game. It was a nothing friendly against a poor side but you can only beat what’s put in front of you.
These are the games Ireland have struggled in, the ones we are expected to control and win comfortably. The last campaign aside, we’ve usually been able to lift ourselves come these big games. Get big points away and the odd win at home, the ‘easier’ games are usually the ones which tend to trip us up. Come Tuesday night in Poland things could dramatically change. As it stands, following a comprehensive, positive performance things can only get better from here. All aboard the O’Neill/Keane reign.