Lightning Long can stake his claim to be main man for Ireland
With the World Cup campaign likely to be Robbie Keane’s last, Greece offer the perfect opportunity to step up in style
Published 14/11/2012 | 05:00
IT may only be a November friendly with Greece, but this is Shane Long's chance to make a significant move towards becoming Ireland's No 1 striker.
I've no doubt that he has the ability and, with the World Cup tilt likely to be Robbie Keane's last campaign, Longy is capable of stepping up to assume the responsibility.
He's been around the set-up since 2007 and I was surprised to hear yesterday that Shane has started only two competitive games in that time.
But then with Robbie and Kevin Doyle being such an established strikeforce, and Longy possessing a lot of the attributes that make for an effective impact substitute, there are reasons why he's had to kick his heels.
Still, after the communication breakdown with Giovanni Trapattoni in August, I'm glad that Longy is now in a position where he can make a strong claim for inclusion in next year's competitive games.
To be fair to him, he put the head down after their dispute in Serbia and didn't come out publicly to make an issue of it, nor did he bring his disappointment back to England with him. Like any good pro, he just got on the job and let his performances with West Brom do the talking.
I hear that Trapattoni was at our game at Wigan last weekend and was complimentary about Longy's defensive aptitude. It would shock me if that's only come to his attention now because it's one of the first things that struck me about him.
As well as doing his stuff going forward, using his athleticism to get back and help the team is a big part of what he's about. In fact, if you wanted to be critical, you could say he does it too much at times.
Maybe you'd like to see him use up all his energy in the final third. Longy isn't the kind of forward who waits for things to happen; in fact, in recent weeks, the main feature of his performances have been his assists, especially that run and cross for Peter Odemwingie in our victory over Southampton.
For a defender or midfielder, he's a terrific option to have available. You always know that when Longy is on the pitch, his speed presents an obvious 'out ball' if you run into difficulty.
He's so quick that he can actually turn a bad pass into a good one, and he'll chase every loose ball possible which can also help to relieve pressure. Even in training, he's a pest.
After being hampered with a few injuries last season, this summer was a test for him with a new manager, Steve Clarke, and the arrival of added competition in the forward department. He's responded brilliantly and has been one of our best players this season.
To me, it looks like he's possibly found another yard of pace, which is impressive considering how lightning fast he was in the first place.
It's one of the most valued assets given the nature of the modern game, and I don't think there is another player in the Irish squad that could match him in that department.
If you're under the cosh against one of the better sides, then Shane can both help the defensive effort and break at speed. It was just unfortunate that when he came into the Germany game, we were already in a difficult spot.
Generally, I'm encouraged by the changes which the manager has made for this game. Perhaps, the way the Germany game panned out has planted some question marks in his head about people.
It's always the case in football that you learn far more in defeat than you do from any victory. He's freshened his team up for the friendly games since the Euros after his incorrect decision to leave things as they were for the final game in Poland against Italy.
There was a danger of reaching a point where the established members of his starting XI were too complacent about their position. Sometimes, having an unchanged squad for so long can have a detrimental effect.
The changes for tonight will have a few lads worried about their position and that pressure could be what they need.
Certainly, having someone like Wes Hoolahan around the place – Norwich City's best player over the last year or so in my view – is a necessary step.
Ciaran Clark's promotion also gives us the presence of another player who is lining out regularly for his club in the Premier League, following on from Marc Wilson's belated inclusion last month.
The strange thing about Clark is that Aston Villa have called so many young players into action over the last year that he almost seems experienced next to them. I've seen bits and pieces of him, and he's a solid defender that can also do a job in midfield.
He's had to wait patiently for his opportunity and now the time has come for him to step up and do it internationally.
If he can make a strong impression at one end of the pitch, and Longy can bring his club form to the other, then a rollercoaster year could finish on a high.