SHANE Long is determined to force his way into Giovanni Trapattoni's World Cup plans after working his way back into Republic of Ireland contention.
The 25-year-old West Brom striker was handed a rare start in last 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.
"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 last night, 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 last night's 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.
The Republic 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 last 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."
Long was not the only man given a chance to impress in last night's game, with Trapattoni handing starting roles to youngsters Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, James McClean and Robbie Brady, and later answering the clamour to include Norwich playmaker Wes Hoolahan when he introduced him as a half-time substitute.
Hoolahan's club form has won him widespread praise, and Long has been impressed with what he has seen in the last few days.
He said: "He's a very lively player, especially in that role behind the striker.
"He finds positions well - I have obviously witnessed that first hand in the Premier League at Norwich. He's doing it week in, week out, so I am delighted for him to get his call-up.
"Wes came in and did really well, Robbie on the wing has given him something to think about as well.
"Hopefully, there are bright times ahead."