Shane Long believes he will make his Ireland opportunity count
Shane Long goes through his paces during Republic of Ireland squad training at Gannon Park, Malahide, Co Dublin. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
While his rate of return for club and country has never been high enough to put the debate about his overall contribution to rest Shane Long’s confidence in his ability remains strong.
Anyway, he might ask, how many goals would it take? Robbie Keane got eight in 2013 alone and there was still plenty of criticism the other night when he was named FAI Player of the Year.
On his day, Long is one of the most gifted players Martin O’Neill has inherited but, the sceptics suggest, he does not score enough. He counters has not started enough for Ireland to be fairly judged and does not always get the credit he deserves for his work-rate at club level.
In any case, Keane’s absence this week is likely to mean another shot at showing what he is capable of. He has, he feels, earned the opportunity.
‘10 goals for my country’
“I’ve got 10 goals for my country (in 43 matches),” he says, “but I think a lot of my appearances were for five or 10 minutes at the end of games. It’s only in the last year and a half that I’ve started to start regularly and get a run of games.
“I didn’t score as many in those as I’d have liked but I’m sure, I think, I did enough to warrant my place in the starting team.
“Hopefully, I can stay in the team and add more goals to my CV but if Robbie keeps scoring the way he has been, I don’t think anyone else needs to.”
At club level, there’s certainly a sense he was under-appreciated at West Brom, with the club’s decision to sell him surprising many.
It was clear he didn’t want to go, if only because of the upheaval leaving would cause his wife and young family, but the decision was more or less made for him and things have gone more smoothly than expected.
Now it’s’s all done and dusted, he is happy to be at a club where he is really wanted.
“It was tough for me at West Brom not knowing where I was standing or if a new contract was coming or what the craic was,” he says.
“It’s hard enough trying to concentrate on your football with those things, so coming to Hull, with the new challenge and fitting in with the lads in the dressingroom more or less straight away, it transfers on to the pitch when you are happy in the dressingroom as well. These are exciting times.”
His wife famously tweeted he wanted them to stay put but she has managed much of the move in the end; finding a house to rent and a nursery for their little girl.
It has, he says, all gone surprisingly well, allowing him to focus on forging a successful partnership with Nikica Jelavic out on the pitch.
“I remember after the first game people were saying we seemed to really click. In training we didn’t play in the same team once – it was young versus old and he’s obviously a little bit older than me – but it has just kind of clicked on the pitch. We didn’t really have to work it.
“I’m enjoying playing up front with him. He’s a handful; he’s a big lad, but he works his socks off as well. He runs around the pitch and he shares the load with me. He’s enjoyable to play with.”
The pair have both got goals since arriving and laid one or two on for each other so the early signs are certainly good, which should help Long look more confidently towards Ireland’s qualifying campaign when, one suspects, he’ll get more minutes on the pitch.
The draw, he admits however, has not been kind, with Germany one of two teams he says the players really did not want (Spain is the other).
“I’d fancy us against any (other) team, once we are set up right And with the manager we have now as well, we’ll be well prepared for any team. The rest of the group is tough for us but it’s very doable.”
A lot of the players said the much same thing last time but if Long were to really assert himself at this level then there are a lot of things that would start to look a little more doable for this Ireland team.