I'm determined to oust either Doyle or Keane -- Long
IT'S GOING to be one of the most important questions for Irish football next year when the Euro 2012 qualifiers come around again -- is Robbie Keane droppable?
It's a long, long time since Ireland's record scorer was left out of the Irish side because the manager deemed that someone else could do the job better.
You have to go back to the 1998 World Cup play-off against Belgium when Mick McCarthy ignored the claims of a 17-year-old Keane -- even though he had already played 20 first team games for Wolves -- and went with Tony Cascarino as a lone striker.
But the form of Shane Long in the last two Ireland games -- away to Slovakia and at home to Norway -- has been the most positive aspect of Ireland's recent outings and has raised the question: can Ireland leave Keane on the bench to be replaced with a more in-form Long?
In the last decade many players have tried to take a starring role up front with Ireland, as Gary Doherty, Clinton Morrison, Alan Lee, David Connolly, Stephen Elliott, and even Jon Macken, came and went.
More recently Daryl Murphy, Anthony Stokes, Leon Best, Noel Hunt, Caleb Folan and Cillian Sheridan have all been tried out.
That first batch have all dropped back significantly (Doherty, Morrison, Lee, Connolly and Macken are all playing in the backwater of the English third division this season, though Elliott is still showing signs of promise in the SPL with Hearts) and others have struggled with injury or loss of form (Sheridan has been out of the team with CSKA Sofia for some weeks now).
So Reading man Long is now our best striking option and many fans, especially those who saw Long run himself into the ground for Ireland away to Slovakia, would like to see him start in the next big game, at home to Macedonia in March.
It's a hard one for Long to deal with as of the two players ahead of him one (Keane) is the Ireland captain and our record goalscorer while the other man (Kevin Doyle) is not only an old team-mate with two clubs (Cork and Reading) but a close friend.
But Long does believe that he can press Keane and Doyle hard for a place in the side, and he knows that another good display against Wales in Dublin in February will see him as a real contender for a starting slot against the men from Macedonia.
"I think I can push Robbie and Doyler," Long told the Herald as he won his 16th cap.
"They are two great strikers but I'd like to think I can challenge. I feel I am a different option up front, and maybe the manager's thoughts will depend on who we play. It's up to the boss at the end of the day but every chance I get I am determined to take.
"It's good to be just in the squad but getting starts for Ireland, which I have done in the last two games, is a real boost for my confidence.
"All I want to do is show the manager what I am about and I hope I did myself proud in the game on Wednesday," said Long, who denied that the foul on him by Norwegian defender Brede Hangeland, which led to the penalty, was a soft one.
"I got myself between the man and the ball, we crossed legs and I went over, but it was a definite penalty. I was always going to take it, there was no one going to get that ball off me. It was nice to get 1-0 up, and we're disappointed to lose the lead and then lose the game," Long says.
"Friendly games are all about trying new things, the result isn't that important as long as you put in a good performance."