Long keen on filling Robbie role
Published 06/03/2014 | 15:47
Shane Long is refusing to be weighed down by the pressure of being cast in the role of heir apparent to Robbie Keane.
The Ireland striker was asked to fill the LA Galaxy frontman's boots in Wednesday night's friendly against Serbia, and claimed the 11th goal of his senior international career in a 2-1 defeat at the Aviva Stadium.
Manager Martin O'Neill did not ask Keane, who the same day signed a new multi-year contract extension with his American employers, to make the gruelling trip across the Atlantic, but in the longer term, he will have to find a replacement for the 33-year-old.
That could represent a heavy responsibility for the successful candidate with Keane's 131 appearances for his country to date having yielded a staggering 62 goals, although Long insists he is not fazed by the challenge.
The 27-year-old Hull frontman said: "I have been here a long time and I have been biding my time, waiting for my chance to come and learning every time I come into the squad.
"I'm sure if the gaffer sees me as a viable option, I'm ready to take that, I'm ready to jump in.
"Wearing that green jersey is a privilege for anybody, so I'm looking forward to the challenge.
"I am going back to Hull now and I'll try to get the confidence back and keep scoring goals and come here in the summer still a Premier League player."
Long himself now has 44 senior caps to his name and new Ireland manager Martin O'Neill has hinted he could have a significant role to play as he attempts to mould his team for the start of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign in September.
But with Keane having also committed himself to the quest to reach the finals of another major tournament, Long will have the opportunity to continue to learn from the nation's record international goalscorer.
Long said: "Robbie's record is unbelievable and I don't think it will ever be touched.
"But I can learn from him as well. He's brilliant to have in and around the squad because he talks to us as well in training and helps us out, and he's a really good captain.
"Obviously the gaffer didn't have him here and went with me up front, and hopefully I gave him something to think about."
Long might have given O'Neill significantly more to think about in a game which saw him fire Ireland into an 11th-minute lead after capitalising on an error by Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, but then pass up two glorious opportunities to add to his tally.
Twice he was played through the heart of the Serbia defence by the excellent Wes Hoolahan, and twice he failed to find the back of the net as he had done with such aplomb earlier in the game.
He said: "It was a great chance for me to get a hat-trick. It's a striker's dream when you have Wes running at the defence and he can just find you with the ball.
"They were two perfect passes to me. To be fair, the first one, the keeper did well, but the second one was a bit of a hash from me.
"But I will learn from it. It's lucky that it's not a qualifier. It's a friendly and apart from those two misses, I thought I put in a good performance.
"Every day in training, I slot them away no problem. I don't know what came over me, not so much for the first one, but that second miss.
"I thought the keeper was coming out and tried to dink him and ended up dragging it, so I will learn from it and probably take more time on the finish."
Long returned to his club facing a blank weekend as he is ineligible to line up against Ireland team-mate John O'Shea in Sunday's FA Cup quarter-final clash with Sunderland.
He said: "I am cup-tied, so I won't be able to play, but I hope the lads do get there. It will probably be my luck that I will be cup-tied and they get to Wembley for an FA Cup final.
"But the lads deserve it. They have put in some great performances over the year and a cup run is always nice to have at the end of it."