Shane in it for the Long haul
Shane Long is determined to force his way into Giovanni Trapattoni's World Cup plans after working his way back into Ireland contention.
The 25-year-old West Brom striker was handed a rare start in Wednesday night's 1-0 friendly defeat by Greece at the Aviva Stadium after finding himself back in favour with the Italian following a misunderstanding over an injury earlier this season.
Ironically, a tight hamstring meant he only played the first 45 minutes of the game, but as he headed back to his club hoping to be fit enough to line up against Chelsea at the weekend, Long was already thinking of March's qualifiers against Sweden and Austria. Asked if he had given Trapattoni something to think about, he said: "I hope so."
He added: "There's a good three or four months now until the next qualifying game, so I have a lot of impression to make in my club games, and hopefully I can do that and impress him even more and cause him a problem for the next game."
Long won his 31st senior cap, but only a handful of his starts have come in competitive matches.
The ubiquitous presence of Robbie Keane - Ireland's record goalscorer was not asked to travel from Los Angeles for the fixture - has left the Baggies frontman competing with Kevin Doyle, Jon Walters and Simon Cox for the remaining place in the starting line-up over the years, and he also points to a lack of Barclays Premier League experience in the past in mitigation.
He said: "It's been tough. For three out of those five years, I wasn't really starting in the Premier League, and you had the likes of Kevin and Robbie and Jon Walters and people like that playing every week, so I could accept it them. But I am slowly pushing my way in there and putting the pressure on the lads to take their starting position. It's all about doing it at club level and doing it again on Saturday against Chelsea."
The defeat by the Greeks brought an eventful 2012 for Ireland to a disappointing conclusion, but left Trapattoni at least still in post and planning for the resumption of competitive action next year.
Ireland have played 12 matches and lost five of them - three to Croatia, Spain and Italy at the Euro 2012 finals and, in humiliating fashion, another to Germany last month - and having headed for Poland on the back of a 14-match unbeaten run, that has come as something of a shock.
That run of results was reflected in the attendance on Wednesday night with the Aviva barely a third full, although Long was philosophical. He said: "When results don't go your way, the crowd will get frustrated, but it's worked for us for two or three years now and when we are winning, it's all happy days."