Euro fate 'in our hands' insists Long
Published 07/04/2011 | 05:00
The rise and rise of Shane Long has ensured that he will play a prominent part in Irish football's short and long-term future. Evidently, he wants Giovanni Trapattoni to be around for as much of that journey as possible.
Reading's affable striker is the man of the moment, the outstanding performer in the English Championship since Christmas and, arguably, the most effective individual for Ireland since the first-half humbling at the hands of Russia last October.
Certainly, the 24-year-old from Tipperary has bounced back from a difficult spell where he briefly became the target of the Madejski Stadium boo-boys.
It is an improvement that has been aided by the support of Reading boss Brian McDermott and Ireland supremo Trapattoni, in tandem with his assistant Marco Tardelli.
Of course, if you question a player on whether he supports the retention of a manager, he is always going to say yes. Yet there was more than the usual bland platitudes when Long was asked about Trapattoni's desire to stick around until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and whether the FAI should follow up on his expression of interest in staying on.
"Definitely," he replied. "I think every player learns so much from him. I know I do, anyway. It's just his experience, being in the game for so long. He's added to every player's game, and the longer he's over Irish football, the better for it."
So, what does Long say to Trap's critics?
"We're joint top of the table and in a great position to make the Europeans," he said. "We're getting results on the board. Sometimes in the past, we wouldn't have. It has worked for Italy as well in all their years of football.
"If you're 1-0 up, it's just as good as a 4-0 win -- you still get the three points on the board. It's the right way to go, I think."
That said, Long enjoyed the formation experiment in last week's friendly defeat to Uruguay, a game where he shone as a lone ranger up front. He observes that lessons have been learned from the humbling at the hands of the Russians.
"They were a very good side and I think if you gave us joint top of the table with them halfway through, we would have taken it back then," he stressed.
"We've put ourselves in a great position and it's more or less ours to lose, so it's a nice position to be in."
Long was in Dublin to promote the launch of the FAI's An Post Summer Schools in tandem with Megan Campbell, a star of Noel King's Irish U-17 team, who is preparing to jet off on a four-year scholarship to the United States in August.
Where will Long be in August? In February, he stated a desire to be in the Premier League whatever happens. He was a tad more diplomatic yesterday as he spoke at Home Farm's Whitehall ground, and understandably so, given that Reading now have a very real chance of sneaking up the rails. Going up with the Royals is the ideal scenario.
They are seven points off an automatic promotion spot and expect to be in the play-offs at the very least. Long, who also has topping the goalscoring charts in his sights -- he is on 20, three behind Watford's Danny Graham -- has plenty of positive targets in his mind. It's a welcome turnaround from last season.
"I always felt I was playing well, but I just couldn't hit the net, I couldn't buy a goal. Strikers go through that sometimes. But I knew if I kept doing what I was doing, the goals would come eventually," said Long, who feels he has developed more in the last 12 months than in his previous four years in England.
"I learned a lot from my first few years over there, from Kevin (Doyle), Dave Kitson, Leroy Lita and all the managers I've been through, but a lot of it is about playing 90 minutes every week, and I've nearly played 50 games this season, so it all adds up."
Ahead of a crucial couple of months in his career, he's not ready to stop counting.