Callum Robinson celebrates scoring with his teammates (Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne)
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Playing the hosts is as close to the Qatar World Cup as Ireland will get – but it was the night that Stephen Kenny’s reign took flight.
The usual caveats apply to a home friendly, of course.
But as those still twitchy about the direction this is all going kept reminding him this week, there was plenty riding on this one – friendly or not.
Another wobble would have smacked of the same old, same old of Kenny’s team taking one step forward only to follow it with two steps back.
But right from the start, there was no chance of that happening again after a brilliant display that was a joy to watch.
Three days after his first competitive win, this was another timely monkey off the manager’s back as it was Kenny’s first home victory.
And moments after Callum Robinson wrapped up a first Irish hat-trick since Robbie Keane’s against Gibraltar here seven years ago, the chants went up.
“There’s only one Stephen Kenny’ reverberated around the South Stand in the 57th minute and soon filtered throughout the other pockets of the ground.
Thirteen months since his first game in charge, this was finally an international window that followed the script. In fact, it couldn’t have gone any better.
Ireland's Chiedozie Ogbene and John Egan go for the same ball
(Image: INPHO/Morgan Treacy)
Kenny’s path has been laced with booby traps up to now. He has also made his own mistakes, too. But in striving for consistency of results, this was just the ticket.
People want to, and do, believe there are good times ahead with this management team and their players.
Now the onus is on them all to seize the narrative and keep on trucking into next month’s final qualifiers with Portugal and Luxembourg.
The goodwill garnered from September’s performances against Portugal and Serbia manifested itself over this past week.
Shane Duffy’s goal was the gloss on a fine display where so many players stood out, chief among them Robinson, Jamie McGrath, Jeff Hendrick and Conor Hourihane.
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And it was a dream start. John Egan’s first minute header signalled intent but Robinson’s fourth minute goal set the tempo for a night that belonged to the hosts.
He collected Enda Stevens’ throw and played a one-two with Hourihane before setting off on a run that resulted in a rising – slightly deflected – shot bursting the net.
And, on the back of his match-winning brace away to Azerbaijan on Saturday, it prompted Ireland fans to scream ‘Shoot! Shoot!’ every time he touched the ball.
They only had another nine minutes to wait before he scored again – but this time from the penalty spot after Karim Boudiaf upended the briilliant McGrath.
Ireland were switched on, although Caoimhin Kelleher could have switched off and pulled up a chair in that opening spell.
Ireland's Callum Robinson celebrates scoring their first goal
(Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne)
On his first Ireland start – with new No 1 Gavin Bazunu rested and on the bench – the Liverpool goalkeeper didn’t touch the ball until the 15th minute.
And he had nothing else to do for the remainder of the game as Qatar were left chasing shadows because of Ireland’s intricate and enterprising play.
With Hendrick covering an extraordinary amount of ground, the midfield hummed and the attack fizzed with McGrath, Robinson and Chiedozie Ogbene bright sparks.
And three days after opening his Ireland account with a late header in Baku, Ogbene thundered another off the crossbar from Robinson’s cross.
But the goals flowed again after the break. Robinson’s remarkable roller-coaster week continued on its upward trajectory when bagging his hat-trick in the 53rd minute.
He latched onto Hendrick’s through ball and finished with a first-time shot into the corner before Duffy powered a header home from Hourihane’s corner minutes later.
Nathan Collins made his debut off the bench after replacing Duffy and the blue waves of Irish attacks kept surging forward as the game finished as it started.
The evidence this past week suggests the Kenny era is finally coming to the fore. November’s games will be the true gauge.
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