Martin O'Neill claimed his honeymoon period with the Republic of Ireland would last 10 minutes but only Paolo Di Canio will concur with that unromantic sentiment. The marriage remains on blissful solid ground after the managerial era of O'Neill and Roy Keane opened with an impressive, convincing defeat of sorry Latvia.
There was a pat on the back for Keane and handshakes all round from the new Republic manager on the final whistle as his team achieved its two objectives in Dublin: victory and a departure from the dispiriting style of O'Neill's predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni. The unseemly war of words with his predecessor at Sunderland, which continued before kick-off with Di Canio accusing O'Neill of being a charlatan who wasted £40m at the Stadium of Light, was forgotten as Robbie Keane scored his 62nd international goal, Aiden McGeady produced a fine second and Shane Long capped a flowing team move for the third. Temporarily forgotten at least.
"I've just been told about the [Di Canio] comments," said O'Neill, who was otherwise "absolutely delighted" with the night's work. "It's hardly worth it. I don't think even anyone at Sunderland would concur with the £40m and one of the players he's talking about helped keep Sunderland up last season with the goals he scored [Steven Fletcher]. They also got £10m for Simon Mignolet. Mignolet is playing brilliantly for Liverpool and I'm sure he'd agree that Seamus McDonagh, who was here with Ireland tonight, had a major influence on his career development."
That was the only sour note of an encouraging first day at the office for O'Neill. Even results elsewhere added to the feel-good mood around Ireland, with Romania's defeat in Greece in their World Cup play-off guaranteeing O'Neill's team will be among the second seeds for the Euro 2014 qualifying draw. "I'm happy with that, although there will be a lot of strong teams of our level among the third seeds," the manager said.
T-shirts with the fitting slogan of Bad Cop (O'Neill) and Bad Bad Cop (Keane) were on sale on the roads outside the Aviva Stadium and a swarm of photographers focused on the tunnel before kick-off. They were not waiting for the team. O'Neill came out alone and into a rousing reception. Keane slipped out with the rest of the coaching staff. All eyes were trained on the bench rather than the first selection of the O'Neill era, in which Wes Hoolahan started behind Keane in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
James McClean, the manager's former charge at Sunderland, and McGeady, his former player at Celtic, hugged the wings when Ireland had possession and tucked inside when it was lost. Their movement was essential to stretch a five-man Latvian defence and McClean in particular enjoyed a productive evening, his performance reminiscent of the rich promise he initially showed at the Stadium of Light. With James McCarthy granted the freedom of central midfield to dictate the flow and pace of the game, Ireland assumed immediate control.
"You have to earn the right to play but I was pleased with how quickly we got into our stride," remarked O'Neill. "James McClean performed excellently and I wouldn't disagree with his man of the match award. He was rejuvenated. He knows I've got confidence in him. He didn't play the right ball once or twice but his desire to attack was very evident."
Set pieces were immediately fruitful for the home team and McCarthy and Keane had both gone close from McGeady deliveries before the captain opened the scoring from the Spartak Moscow winger's corner. McClean flicked the ball on at the near post and the 33-year-old read the Wigan midfielder's intentions perfectly to flick a close-range volley beyond Andris Vanins. O'Neill clapped politely while his assistant punched the air in celebration.
The Irish bench were back on their feet when McGeady made the game safe with a superb finish midway through the second half. Collecting a careless pass across midfield from Juris Laizans, who in fairness was pressed well by Glenn Whelan, McGeady had only one thing in mind as he bore down on goal. An emphatic low drive into the bottom corner from 25 yards was the result and demonstrated that he should have a better return than three goals in 62 appearances for his country. Not that Ireland are in the mood to be churlish at present.
The third goal was equally impressive, albeit from a collective stand-point. The substitute Jon Walters sent Seamus Coleman away on the right, the Everton defender timed his run to perfection and his first-time cross was turned in at the back post by Long. It was a memorable honeymoon indeed.