Tuesday 24 January 2017

Stephen Hunt: There was a time I thought Mr Perfect wouldn't make it as a footballer

Published 11/10/2015 | 13:30

Shane Long celebrates after scoring against Germany
Shane Long celebrates after scoring against Germany
Shane Long's confidence means it would be beneficial to Ireland if he started against Poland

As a professional footballer, you rarely feel like a fan, but last Thursday night I was as caught up in the emotion as any supporter.

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When Shane Long ran through to score, did I think about how far my friend has come since he came over to England as almost an afterthought in the deal which brought Kevin Doyle to Reading? Of course I didn't.

I liked Shane from the first time I met him, but for a while, I wasn't sure if he could make it as a footballer. Now I see him differently, now I call him Mr Perfect. He's good-looking, he's an expert at DIY, he's PR perfect too, he's good at football and he earns a lot of money. Shane has got it all.

I know he would have been angry when he wasn't picked last Thursday. You could see that anger when he came on, but there was something good about it, something about it which cleared his head of all other thoughts when he was through on goal.

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Shane has always had that temper too. I see it as a hurling temper and it's a good thing. It might be a moment when you decide to kick somebody when you shouldn't, but it can keep you going too.

I remember coming in once at half-time and we had an exchange because he thought I was passing to my brother more than I was passing to him. I didn't back down, and we had words, but I remember thinking, even at that moment, that his fighting spirit was always going to serve him well.

Shane doesn't back down either and he has always had that. When he first arrived in England, he had the pace, but there were plenty of doubts about him.

Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, celebrates with Kevin Doyle after the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Germany. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, celebrates with Kevin Doyle after the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Germany. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Some of those are just the doubts people have about a player who comes late to the game. It was clear he had a raw talent but it has been refined over the years.

It hasn't been too refined and when he's raw, powerful and angry, he's at his best. We saw that against Germany.

His post-match interview was perfect as well and he captured the mood in the stadium and the mood around the country.

I think Ireland might benefit from him starting tonight in Warsaw. His confidence is sky high and Poland can't just sit back even though all they need is a low-scoring draw.

If they come forward, as they'll have to at home, his pace will trouble them, just as it did for the Germans.

Having said that, I wouldn't make too many changes from the team on Thursday, even though I think Martin O'Neill probably will. I suspect he'll play Glenn Whelan alongside James McCarthy in midfield but I think that would be a mistake. We saw how effective the midfield was on Thursday night and McCarthy is at his best in a deeper role. Don't change that for a game we need to win or score a lot of goals in. O'Neill has to make a big decision there, and I hope he sticks with what worked so well for us on Thursday evening

Jon Walters will have a big role to play again tonight. He always looks knackered after 15 minutes, but he keeps going until the end. What he does for the side can't be overlooked. It's selfless and thankless at times but everyone in the side will know exactly how important he is.

Wes Hoolahan has to start as well, because we really have to go for it, but I still think David McGoldrick can play a part. I'm boring people at this stage when I say how good he is, but I have a feeling Martin O'Neill has seen it too, and he's trying to find a way to get him more involved. I can see him making a difference and surprising a few people tonight.

Normally you would worry about tiredness if you're playing Thursday and Sunday, but these aren't normal times. I would play the players who did so much last week, and tell them to do it again. Ireland are so close now. There's nothing to lose, and these players have already shown what they can do to excite every Ireland supporter.

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