Sport Soccer

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Hunt delighted to see 'hurler' Long getting reward

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

STEPHEN HUNT has paid tribute to Shane Long for sticking it out when others would have grown disillusioned by travelling around the world as an unused substitute.

Long will start tonight's friendly with Norway in the absence of Robbie Keane after doing a fine job of standing in for Kevin Doyle in Slovakia last month.

The Reading striker made a goalscoring substitute appearance against Russia a couple of days earlier, and his former club-mate Hunt is delighted to see the Tipperary native reaping the rewards for his patience after a period in his career where he appeared to be stuck in neutral.

"Shane Long has turned up for the last two years every time and he hasn't had much success in terms of coming on -- he hasn't come on in all the games," said Hunt. "It's hard sometimes when you're coming here and you're not getting on. You're sitting in a hotel room and stuff like that.

"Now, he's getting more regular football with his club and so that will benefit him as well. He's getting stronger and he has to develop.

"He had a year there when he may have stood still a little bit but he's better than that so he's progressing well again and showing his potential.

"He's a Tipperary hurler, to be honest. He hasn't got the physique of a footballer, but he's strong as an ox and he's quick and powerful so he'll be a handful. Even if he is having a bad game, he will still be in their faces and cause problems."

For Hunt, this is a significant period as well. The Waterford man has spent the majority of 2010 on the sidelines with a foot injury that initially appeared harmless but ended up bringing his career with Hull to a premature close.

Wolves were still ready to splash the cash, and the 29-year-old has returned to club action in the last month, enduring his own pre-season against some of the Premier League's big guns.

Naturally, considering his enthusiasm for the game, the period on the sidelines has been frustrating, especially watching Ireland from afar.

Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni admitted that Hunt's energy and defensive awareness were missed in the reverse at the hands of the Russians. A few texts from Trapattoni and assistant boss Marco Tardelli kept his spirits high during the lengthy hiatus.

"The most important thing is that you're mentally strong," said the winger of the lay-off.

"There are bad days. You do running and the next day you might be a bit sore so you're disappointed. It was slow coming back, but I'm back now so I'm glad. In my first couple of games after I came back, I had a back problem. I needed an injection to just settle it down.

"Thankfully that's gone away in the last week or so. I had a few niggles after coming back and so it's only now that I'm beginning to feel like a bit of an athlete. I feel good, so happy days."

However, with Damien Duff and Liam Lawrence starting in the wide roles tonight, and Trapattoni indicating that Aiden McGeady and Keith Treacy will feature as substitutes, Hunt may have to wait a little longer to fully remind Ireland's fans of his ability.

Irish Independent

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