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Keane leads five-star rout as debutants nail auditions

The biggest win of Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland reign provided a distraction to the bizarre war of words behind the scenes over James McCarthy's absence as Robbie Keane led a goal rout of Northern Ireland in the Carling Nations tournament at the Aviva Stadium last night.

Two-goal Keane did his hopes of landing a Premier League contract no harm, and more importantly, boosted his confidence for the June 4 European Championship qualifier against Macedonia.

And a double bonus for manager Trapattoni was the goals scored by debut boys Stephen Ward and Simon Cox.

A Northern Ireland player got on the scoresheet, but on the wrong end, as a Craig Cathcart own goal put Keane and Co 3-0 up at half-time.

It could have been six as second- half substitute Stephen Hunt rattled the woodwork from a late free-kick, only to see the ball beaten away for a corner, but the southern fans weren't complaining.

They got full value for their money and in fairness to Nigel Worthington's under-strength side, the North players kept trying to play good football.


The visitors threw the early shapes, moving the ball neatly around the park and causing a little flurry of worry when winger Johnny Gorman flashed the ball across the face of the Republic's goal.

Luckily it flew away to safety, but Gorman showed he could be a threat by getting a good contact on a Sammy Clingan cross, only to corkscrew the ball wide.

Both sides were prepared to get the ball down and pass with purpose, but with Keith Andrews solid in the centre of midfield, and winger Keith Treacy looking lively down the left, Trap's men began to assert themselves.

Paul McShane was just wide with a header, Treacy took the direct route, brushing off a challenge to fire in a shot from just outside the box which ex-Bohs 'keeper Alan Blayney dived to hold.

And on 16 minutes, Treacy and debut striker Cox linked-up to allow Andrews an opening. The Blackburn man went for a 'Thierry Henry' curling shot across to the far post, only to see the ball bounce off the upright.

Shay Given -- playing his first match of 2011 after a frustrating season of injury and bench warming -- didn't appreciate a little 'welcome back' from Northern Irish striker Josh McQuoid.

Given was out quickly to clear, and McQuoid left the foot in just enough to catch Ireland's hero on the ankle. We couldn't hear what Given said, but it's fair to say it was on the lines of 'ni feidir leat' -- 'no, you can't!'

Skipper Keane was looking lively and his 21st-minute chip towards the corner of the net forced Blayney into a catch under the crossbar.

His body was behind the line, but no need for goal-line technology -- the big goalkeeper kept his arms and the ball firmly in the safety zone.

Still, the momentum from Keane's men was building, and when they finally broke the deadlock in the 24th minute and there was no happier man in Ireland than scorer Stephen Ward.

First senior cap, first senior goal for your country -- it could hardly get better.

The 25-year-old from Portmarnock showed the instincts of the striker he once was with Bohs and in his early days with Wolves, by tucking the ball neatly home after a Treacy cross was spilled by goalkeeper Blayney into Ward's path.

Confidence surged through the home side and fans alike, and a huge roar greeted the Republic's second goal and Keane's 47th international strike in the 37th minute.

Old hand Keane read the tea leaves perfectly as Northern Ireland left-back Lee Hodson shaped for a pass back to his goalkeeper from 25 yards out on the right.

As soon as the ball left his foot, Hodson knew he had blundered, and just to confirm it, Robbie darted forward, drew the goalie and chipped immaculately into the net.

Just on half-time, it got worse for the away side, as Cathcart scored an own goal.

Coleman accelerated into the Northern Irish penalty box and his low, hard cross was parried by the keeper, only to hit Cathcart and rebound into the goal.

No chance for the defender, 3-0 to Trap's boys, and the only question was: how many more goals were to come in the second half?

The Republic made no half-time changes. Nigel Worthington brought on striker Oliver Norwood for McQuoid, but it made little difference.

An attacking move for the Northerners broke down around midfield in the 53rd minute, and Keith Andrews coolly stroked a 40-yard pass into Keane's path.

Keane was through and ready to shoot when right-back Adam Thompson blatantly pushed him.

Penalty for the home side and a cruel red card from Scottish referee Craig Thomson for his namesake. And Keane stroked the penalty home for his second and the team's fourth goal.

He almost had his hat-trick three minutes later but his blistering shot was parried for a corner by Blayney.

Manager Trapattoni cut Keane's night short by replacing him with Andy Keogh in the 62nd minute, and the skipper looked disappointed.

Given made way 10 minutes later to give substitute goalkeeper David Forde a senior debut.

But it was another debutant, Cox who had the last word, deftly stepping into open space to power a left-footed drive for goal number five with 10 minutes to go.

Republic of Ireland -- Given (Forde 72); McShane, Kelly, Delaney, Ward; Coleman (Lawrence 55), Foley, Andrews, Treacy; Cox, Keane (Keogh 62).

Northern Ireland -- Blayney; Thompson, Cathcart, McAuley, Hodson; Carson (McGinn 72), Clingan, Davis (Garrett 76), Gorman; McQuoid (Norwood h/t), Feeney (Boyce 72).

REF -- C Thomson (Scotland).

Irish Independent