Shane Long: Tomorrow is our play-off - We want automatic qualification
Shane Long, the hero of Ireland’s famous defeat of Germany on Thursday night, says that a confident group of travelling players have to approach tomorrow’s finale in Group D like a play-off and get the win that would avoid a stressful November.
The Irish squad have arrived in the Polish capital knowing that a three point haul from the crunch encounter would secure a place in France next summer. Before their shock success over the world champions, manager Martin O’Neill had said he would settle for a two legged decider next month but the goalposts have moved after Long’s wonder strike stunned the world champions.
“If we win, we’re in the Euros and we don’t have to worry about anything else,” said Long, who is in line to start at the impressive National Stadium after his memorable cameo at the Aviva. “We don’t have to worry about anything else. It’s nice going into the game knowing that we have the play-offs but in this position, it would be a shame not to qualify as you don’t know who you could get in the play-offs, you could get a tough team over two legs. So we have to view this game tomorrow as our play-off.”
Long spoke diplomatically about his own position within the Ireland squad, stressing that he is ready to ‘do any job’ for boss Martin O’Neill - who was sitting next to him at the press conference. The Southampton striker would be making just his second start of the campaign if he comes into the team.
“I love playing for Ireland,” said Long, who admitted that his phone didn’t stop hopping after his magic moment. “I love putting on that jersey so when that chance comes my way I’m going to grab it with both hands. Every player wants to start but if that’s not the case, I’m ready whenever I’m needed. It’s up to the boss.”
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O’Neill, who was reluctant to get drawn into discussion about his own future amid reports that the FAI want him to stay, said there will be changes to his starting XI although that’s no great surprise given that Shay Given and Stephen Ward are out of the fixture after hobbling off.
He indicated that Seamus Coleman is fit to take over from Cyrus Christie and hinted that Glenn Whelan will come back into midfield with Robbie Brady capable of reverting to left-full.
The 63-year-old said a couple of Thursday’s protagonists were suffering bumps and bruises but he was reluctant to go into detail. Wes Hoolahan was outstanding despite a heel injury curtailing his preparation and O’Neill said he would have to consider if the diminutive Dubliner could start a second game in the space of three days.
“He’s on the other side of 30,” said O’Neill, “So we have to see whether we can have the benefit of him starting two matches in quick succession.
“Certainly, now in terms of his confidence, he feels as if he’s capable of playing anywhere,” he added, a reference to the fact that the Norwich trickster was benched for significant away fixtures early in this qualifying group.
O’Neill croaked his way through the press duties with his voice perhaps suffering from Thursday’s energetic sideline show. Despite the short recovery period, he feels his team have actually gained strength from the elation of a glorious night. James McCarthy’s coming of age in the international arena was a major positive.
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“It was nice to see James come and take hold of the game and play as brilliantly as we’ve been thinking he’s been capable of doing for some time,” he asserted, “He took on that responsibility and handled it brilliantly.
“We were absolutely at our utmost against Germany and sometimes with a quick turnaround it is difficult to replicate that but it’s something we have to try and do. Nothing short of that (performance) will be good enough against Poland here.”