WHEN Shane Long travelled over from Tipperary to find his fortune in England playing as a professional footballer, he carried with him more than most Irish kids who take that road.
For a start, he was far older than most of the kids who enter the English system, many of whom are targeted when they are as young as 12.
He also had a deep connection with Gaelic games and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Long is now reaping the benefits of his late start in England and the skills he acquired playing hurling.
By the time many of the good young footballers who cross to England reach their late teens, some will be fully institutionalised by the experience and I think it is no real surprise when some of them develop bad habits.
It's a lonely station when you're young and taken out of your community to go to a new place with no friends and only your own wits to help you.
The best have a strong sense of survival to go with their talent and, in my day, a firm idea of the dream they were chasing. I think that has changed and, in many ways, Long is a bit of a throwback by virtue of his late arrival on the scene.
He didn't have the promise of a professional contract at 16 which some have and when he moved to Reading, he had already appeared at Croke Park in front of a big crowd and, best of all, enjoyed his teenage years among his own.
He was lucky that there was an Irish colony at Reading and he moved with Kevin Doyle so he had company on the way.
The only question for me was whether he had as natural a feel for football as he obviously had for hurling.
Now we know. The improvement in Long's overall game has been fantastic in the past three years and I've thought for some time that he would be a slow burner but would eventually break through.
This season at Reading, he has really blossomed but I think his performances for Ireland are probably a better reckoner for the level he should be playing at, even more than a 20-goal total in the Championship.
He has played against some good defenders in the past few months and reached a peak against Uruguay when he was unstoppable.
It's a rare thing in international football to look at a game and to be able to say that an attacking player is unplayable.
Lionel Messi does it on a regular basis, Kaka can do it when he's in the right humour and Ronaldhino used to be able to do it.
I'm not putting Long in that class but I'm certain he can make a big impact on the Premier League in the coming years.
Long is one of the main reasons Giovanni Trapattoni has been forced to reassess the strength and capability of Ireland's best footballers.
I'm very optimistic about the future and I'm not really surprised Trapattoni has adapted his thinking and is keen to stay on as Ireland boss for another few years.
Long and lads such as Seamus Coleman, Greg Cunningham, David Meyler, James McCarthy and Ciaran Clark show real class. But I'm not sure anyone should be making any rash decisions.
There's an awful long way to go in Euro 2012 qualifying and I would urge patience on all sides.
I'VE been criss-crossing the country for the past few months and all the hard work by many, many people came to fruition with the Walk of Dreams.
I want to thank everyone who helped and, most of all, the young footballers and their parents and friends who walked and fund-raised.
There were problems and I'll hold my hands up on that. I'm sorry people were disappointed with events in the Aviva Stadium but I think everyone enjoyed the walk and the great atmosphere it created.
This was the first try and we will get it right next time but I do know that in a year's time when we walk again, kids in disadvantaged areas will be using facilities which are not presently in existence.
I also know that all the clubs that took part will be able to invest half the money they raised in their own facilities and, after that, will be able to apply for a grant.
I want to give a special mention to my own club, Stella Maris, who had people walking at four venues and have agreed to give all the money they raised to the Foundation.
That's fantastic and gives me great hope that the John Giles Foundation will be a success.