A low-key friendly game against Scotland in Glasgow last Wednesday was probably the place to start. Scotland in one of their worst slumps — crowing about recent victories over those world-renowned soccer superpowers Iceland and Canada — and the Irish keen to prove that an absent friend wasn’t really needed.
If the attitude and character that had made Ireland a team to fear during last year’s World Cup finals had been missing during Mick McCarthy’s disastrous two last matches in charge, traditional Irish qualities were on show again in Glasgow. Kerr’s players were sharp, focused and highly competitive for such an underwhelming fixture.
“Are you watching, Roy Keane?” chanted the Irish supporters as Kevin Kilbane and then Clinton Morrison scored during the first half to put a smile back on Kerr’s face. If there were no more goals after halftime, it didn’t matter as the visitors remained in control. And all this without the services of the injured Robbie Keane, Damien Duff and Kenny Cunningham, while first-choice goalkeeper Shay Given was rested.
Typically, Keane wasn’t watching; he was attending a parent-teacher meeting at his daughters’ school, but even he would’ve been impressed by his former teammates’ application. Stephen Carr, back after a career-threatening injury, gave the side strength and pace, and he was aided and abetted by Steven Reid, who once again made a good impression.
The makeshift central defensive partnership of John O’Shea and Gary Breen was watertight even if the Scottish attacking threat was almost non-existent. Morrison worked hard up front in tandem with Gary Doherty and there appeared to be a genuine effort to make a point to the new manager.
“It’s always great to come back from your club to Ireland,” Breen said. “I love being in a team that’s organized. Maybe the defeats against Switzerland and Russia made us think a bit. Maybe subconsciously we thought we were better players than we really are. We can’t afford to put the work rate aside.”
Accepting that Keane had overshadowed the build-up to the game, Kerr expressed himself “delighted” to have started with a win. He revealed that a few hours before kickoff, he’d staged a little ceremony at which the players were presented with their international caps. “I said to them: ‘Every international appearance has to be made precious. You’re part of an elite group. So every game you play is to be special in its own way. And I hope that you never lose the passion and desire to play for your country.’ “
Whether or not Kerr was thinking about Keane is a moot point, but he was certainly looking ahead to the away European Championship qualifying games against Georgia and Albania at the end of March and early April. He has a victory under his belt, but he badly needs to keep the winning habit.