THE CAR PARK was a lot busier than usual. That was the first sign.
Outside the perimeter fence 20 or 30 fans gathered, anxious to catch any sort of glimpse of Ireland’s new double act as they took their first training session.
Others opted for a vantage point up on a hill overlooking Gannon Park.
By the time a crowd began to form Roy Keane and goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh had already taken stock of their new set-up in Malahide. They arrived long before the rest for their first full day at the office — around 9.30am to be precise, 90 minutes before training was scheduled to start.
Fail to prepare, and all that.
“I sent him there early,” Martin O’Neill joked when asked about his assistant’s early start. “No I didn’t. I did not.
“Seamus is always early. Seamus would have started at 5.30 this morning if he could. Roy wanted to go with him just to get a few things organised.
“He was very focused. He was looking forward to it. He was talking a great deal about it last night and true to his word he was there.”
When the players arrived and the media was ushered inside, it was only to witness the first 15 minutes and a brisk warm-up led by fitness coach Dan Horan.
At the other end of the pitch McDonagh met his three new charges — goalkeepers David Forde, Keiren Westwood and Rob Elliot — to put them through their paces.
O’Neill addressed his new squad over dinner at the team hotel on Monday evening and so he could use the first pitch session to settle everyone into their new working arrangements: to let the management get to know the players, and vice versa.
“There wasn’t too much tactical work,” Stephen Ward said afterwards.
“It was just getting the lads out together and having a session where everyone could get involved.”
It was “a little bit surreal” though to be sharing a pitch with one of his childhood heroes.
You grow up watching [Keane]. He’s obviously one of the greatest players to play for Ireland. I was a Man United fan so he obviously has a great influence.
Once the cameras had been switched off Keane took a hands-on approach. There were bibs to be handed out, small-sided games and shooting practice to organise.
The more intricate matters — the tactics and formation for Friday’s friendly against Latvia — will be dealt with later in the week.
“What we’ll try and do is just a little bit of organisation, a little bit of shape in the next two days,” O’Neill said.
“Things now that are deciding football matches, corner kicks and set-pieces are very important. Those are the type of things. There’s not much more you can work on given these couple of days.”
Since taking the job O’Neill might feel that he has done nothing but answer questions about the working arrangements with his new number two, but he was pleased with their early division of labour.
“It was exactly what we said we would do. Roy wants to work with the players, so do I as well.
We had a little formula worked out. It wasn’t rocket science or anything.
The players were just as happy with day one of the new regime.
“They wanted to let everyone kind of enjoy it and everyone did,” Ward said. “It was an enjoyable session.”
“Really good, high tempo,” Alex Pearce said as he caught his breath afterwards. “Everyone wanted to impress. It was good to be a part of it.”
“Everyone has been buzzing in training,” he added. “Spirits seem really high.
We’ve got a good team spirit here anyway. The management team will only add to that and bring the best out of us.
That much, at least, seems certain.