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We're well on way: Kilbane

FIRST, THE bad news and the bad omens. Twice in the past seven qualifying campaigns, Ireland have opened their qualification group with two wins in two games -- then gone on to flop against Macedonia and go through the misery of a play-off and, ultimately, failure to qualify, for the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.

Now we have two wins from two games and matches looming against those pesky men from Macedonia -- no pressure then, lads.

But Kevin Kilbane, one of the longest-serving players in the Irish squad, reckons that the omens are siding with Ireland in our bid to end that barren run of four finals tournaments without an Irish presence.

"It's a long, long time since we won our opening two games in the qualifiers, so we're happy with the week's work. It was two good performances as well as two wins, we have to draw confidence from that now," said Kilbane, a goal-scoring hero for Ireland as his 14th-minute header eased the pressure on the home side.

"We spoke about our targets before the week started. Some people said that four points would be a good return but six points was in our grasp and I don't think we could have asked for more. But we can't rest on our laurels, we have to take it forward now.

"I think when you look at the other results from last night and from Friday's games -- Scotland struggling against Liechtenstein last night, Portugal dropping points in two games, the French result at home to Belarus -- I think this looks like a good week's work for us.

"Teams like Andorra make it tough for you if you don't score early and thankfully we did. You can get very edgy when you haven't scored, so I think the two wins is a great performance from us. I think there will be shock in every group in the tournament. Last night showed that so we're happy to be where we are, on top with no points dropped.

"Russia will come to Dublin now looking for a win after their defeat last night, they'll be desperate to get back on track, and we know too well from the last time that they are very dangerous, so that'll be a very hard game for us. But we're at home and we have to use that to our advantage," added Kilbane.

The big man from Hull City has been shy of scoring goals for Ireland of late, but he seems to save his goals as punishment for the minnows of the world game -- from his career tally of eight international goals, five have now come against Andorra, San Marino or the Faroes.

"I save the goals for the big matches, don't I?" joked Kilbane. "It's always nice to score. I knew before the game that I'd scored two in two games against Andorra the last time we played them so it was pleasing to get one last night.

"It was important to get the first goal early. It's always frustrating at home to these teams. Once we got the second goal I thought we'd score a few more but they got a goal totally against the run of play -- it was a great goal but an offside one from them. The referee didn't see it.

"We scored three great goals, Robbie took his really well and Kevin Doyle had a tremendous finish for his strike -- three great goals.

"The manager was disappointed to concede a goal but these things happen. If someone takes a shot from 25 yards sometimes there's not much you can do about it, you just have to hold your hand up and carry on. It was a great strike from them. Shay had no chance so we won't worry too much about that.

"I was just pleased as it's so important to get an early goal against a side like Andorra, it breaks it up a bit and eases the pressure. I scored, Kevin scored a great goal and then Robbie got one from a nice move too so they were all good goals.

"I was confident we would win. After we went 3-1 up we had more chances. I could have scored another goal, a few other lads missed a couple, maybe we could have scored another one or two but we were always in control and Shay had nothing to do, virtually, for most of the game. It was just one of those nights when they make it difficult," said Kilbane, happy to have racked up successive 90-minute appearances for Ireland, a sign that the veteran of eight qualifying campaigns is not surrendering that left-back slot just yet.

He shrugs off praise for himself, but the Hull player does feel that criticism of the side for the win in Armenia was unwarranted.

"The Armenia game was a very tricky one for us and we deserve credit for that display," he said.

"Someone said that we were a long-ball team and that we haven't moved forward but I can't accept that. It's very difficult against teams like Armenia -- they showed that with their result in Macedonia last night -- and to me we were solid and effective in Armenia.

"I think it was one of the former internationals who said we were a long-ball team and I found that disappointing. It's hard to go to places like Armenia. We went there and we stuck together, we had to grind it out at times but we did the job.

"I think Armenia will prove in their other home games just how good they are and just how good a win that was for us over there."