In what was the 16th meeting of the nations, Ireland were much the better side in the first half while England produced more of the chances in the second before a crowd of 43,486 at Aviva Stadium.
“It was exactly what we needed,” said O‘Neill, in regard to the match providing an ideal workout ahead of the next Saturday‘s Euro2016 qualifier with Scotland back at the same venue.
“We started off brightly in the game and maybe could have scored a couple of goals, we certainly had decent chances. The overall picture was that it was good for us. From a physical viewpoint, it couldn’t have been better.”
With those vital points at stake against Scotland in Group D next up, O’Neill used the depth of his squad with starts for Kieran Westwood in goal, Jeff Hendrick in midfield and Daryl Murphy and David McGoldrick in attack. John O’Shea skippered the side from central defence.
Roy Hodgson, manager of runaway Group E leaders England, started a near full-strength side in a 4-3-3 formation captained by 47-goal Wayne Rooney.
Playing a 4-4-2 system, with Hendrick and Aiden McGeady on the flanks, Ireland started purposefully, forcing two corners inside the opening minutes.
O’Neill’s men then fashioned the first real chance of the game on 16 minutes. A delightfully flighted diagonal free kick from Robbie Brady was arced to the far post. Rooney was alert to the danger, though, positioning himself well to make a telling interception in putting the ball out for a corner as Hendrick lurked in behind him.
Hendrick was involved again to open England up when heading through Westwood’s clearance to get Murphy in on goal on 27 minutes. The big Ipswich striker controlled the ball deftly before flicking a left-foot shot narrowly wide of the diving Joe Hart’s right-hand post.
Murphy might have done better from another clear opening nine minutes later, heading disappointingly wide, again from Brady’s excellently delivered free kick.
England failed to work Westwood once in the opening half, the nearest they came to threatening was a shot over the bar from Adam Lallana on 44 minutes.
Ireland then finished the half on the front foot with McGoldrick having a shot deflected for a fifth corner by Gary Cahill after McGeady‘s clever footwork put him through.
England injected a little more energy to their game on the resumption and should have punished a defensive mistake to take the lead four minutes in.
Ireland defender Marc Wilson was caught in possession by Jordan Henderson. And though he put Rooney in on goal, the Manchester United striker’s heavy first touch saw the ball run straight through to Westwood.
Two minutes later at the other end of the pitch, yet another free kick from Brady troubled England as Hart made an awkward save at his near post to force the ball out for another Ireland corner.
With the game opened up now, Raheem Sterling had a clear opportunity for England within a further minute, though he curled his shot well off target.
Westwood gathered comfortably from a Rooney free kick while Phil Jones headed over in a period of England pressure around the hour mark.
Ireland hit back with Jonathan Walters, on for Murphy, stinging the palms of Hart with a right-foot drive on 62 minutes.
Another Ireland substitute, Harry Arter, almost scripted a dream debut when tenaciously creating a chance for himself on 74 minutes. Robbing Ross Barkley of the ball, the Bournemouth midfielder raced forward to drill a shot from the edge of the area not far wide.
England finished strongly with Phil Jagielka heading over the bar before Shay Given, on for his 129th cap, had to go full stretch to push away Andros Townsend’s low drive on 81 minutes.
While Hodgson expressed his disappointment that his side dipped below their recent high standards, he praised the spirit in which the game was played and the good-natured atmosphere in the ground.
“I think it was a game both teams needed after the end of the season, in some cases three weeks ago,” said the England manager. “The positives for me were harder to find than for Martin. There were two positives. One was the spirit in which game was played. And the other was the atmosphere in the stadium and behaviour of the fans. We set ourselves high standards and we were nowhere near them in first half. We were marginally better in the second half.”
Republic of Ireland: Westwood (Given 61); Coleman, O’Shea (McShane 71), Wilson, Brady; Hendrick, Whelan (Arter 63), McCarthy (McClean 46t), McGeady; McGoldrick (Long 46), Murphy (Walters 56).
England: Hart; Jones, Cahill (Jagielka 74), Smalling, Bertrand; Henderson, Wilshire (Barkley 66), Milner; Sterling (Townsend 66), Rooney (Vardy 74), Lallana (Walcott 82).
Referee: Arnold Hunter (Northern Ireland).