Meet the new bosses, rather different to the old boss — and with a fair few new orders.
The sense of invigorating freshness in this fine first win over Latvia felt about a little more than just the identity of the two forceful figures on the sideline.
Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane could be rather pleased with how some different approaches were applied.
If the quality of the side ranked ninth worst in Europe was always going to add a caveat to much of that, the quantity of little extra angles and moves Ireland created was encouraging. That movement is inevitably going to be the case when a player like Wes Hoolahan is at the tip of a triangle in midfield rather than just a flat four, but there was a little more to this than just the inclusion of a player who warranted so much discussion at the end of the last regime.
O’Neill may have continued a very Irish and British tradition of fielding two out-and-out wingers but he used them in a much more nuanced way. While James McClean played very wide out on the left, Aiden McGeady constantly drifted inside to open space.
O’Neill has had the audacity to compare the Spartak Moscow winger to both Ronaldinho and Leo Messi in the past, if for the purposes of public encouragement, but his role here was genuinely reminiscent of some of the positions Chris Waddle used to be utilised in.
McGeady was afforded the freedom to get on the ball, drift inside, pick some passes and allow Seamus Coleman to overlap more frequently.
There was also how high the two wingers played and how intensely they pressed, which O’Neill promised would be the case before the game. That is a further benefit to the attacking when the flankers aren’t charged with constantly having to help the full-backs defensively, as both McGeady and McClean clearly enjoyed that extra energy.
Of course, it must be stated that Giovanni Trapattoni allowed his wingers much more freedom against weaker teams — as was the case against the Faroe Islands in June — and that is exactly the manner a side like Latvia were always going to complicate perceptions of this first game.
It would be such a positive break with the past, however, if the wide men were allowed to concentrate more on causing problems of their own rather than dealing with those posed by the opposition. That was always the crux with the old regime. In focusing so much on avoiding Irish errors, the team weren’t quite allowed to force them from the opposition to the same extent.
Both approaches are two sides of the same coin, but one is so much more proactive. O’Neill offered positive signs here.
Given that the wingers displayed the most obvious differences, it was appropriate that they were involved in that first goal. McGeady curled in the 22nd-minute corner, James McClean flicked it on. As regards the finish, however, some things never change.
It was Robbie Keane who scored the final goal of the last regime and the captain who hit the first strike of this one. Both were opportunistic efforts from within seven yards of goal.
Ireland also played much closer to the opposition goal, too.
For the second half, the wingers switched flanks but didn’t switch roles. McGeady gave Latvia repeated warning of his intentions in cutting inside to shoot, but they could do little to stop it.
Just before the hour, he stung goalkeeper Andris Vanins’s hands. On 67, he rippled the net for the second.
By that point, there was even greater composure about Ireland’s attacking. Early on, perhaps mindful of O’Neill’s statements about increasing the intensity, the side were a little rushed once they got into the final third. As the game got into the final quarter, by contrast, there was a pleasing slickness to some of the passing. That was never more evident than for the 81st-minute clincher, as Ireland coursed forward in glorious fashion.
Shane Long’s finish rounded off a fine start. First impressions were certainly promising.
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