O’Neill likes what he sees but knows tougher tests lie ahead

Robbie Keane celebrates scoring Ireland's first goal against Latvia. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

Martin O’Neill expressed himself “delighted” with his first game in charge last night but added the rider that there would be far tougher tests to come for his new team.

“Delighted with the performance,” he announced. “I accept the fact there will be sterner tests ahead — one on Tuesday night — but it was nice to play well and get some goals.

“Just getting that first goal was very important for us. My own view was that after the goal we played in front of them for the next 10 minutes but overall delighted with the team and the fans.”

So, was his message getting through?

“It is very early to make assumptions. Delighted to win, the players’ enthusiasm was great but… one or two lads remarked that tonight was play-off night and we hadn’t made it.

“We have lots of hard work ahead of us.”

His former player at Sunderland ,James McClean, in particular, caught his eye.

“James McClean got man of the match and played rejuvenated and with confidence. He knows that I have confidence in him. There were a number of decent performances. Hoolahan had some nice touches and has been impressive in training.”

There was also a cautious welcome for the news that Romania’s failure to beat Greece in their play-off match had assured his charges of a second seed berth in the forthcoming European Championship qualifiers.

“If you tell me that that is good news for us I will accept it. I am obviously happy with that if that is the case but there will be a lot of third seeds who are every bit as strong as we will be.”

Meanwhile, Latvian manager Marian Pahars had talked Ireland up prior to the game and nothing he witnessed in Ballsbirdge last night changed his opinion on the relative merits of both sides.

“It is no surprise,” he said of the defeat. “We maybe could have played better and conceded less but the reality is that it was two teams on a different level. Ireland made six changes and every one seemed to [make them] better.

“It was a good start for them. I said it before, [O’Neill] is the right choice for your confederation and your country.

“He is a top manager. I see the level of the other teams and I see what your team can do and the amount of players you have to choose from.”

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