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I'll finish on home turf


Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, celebrates with team-mate Wes Hoolahan, right, after scoring against Serbia

Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, celebrates with team-mate Wes Hoolahan, right, after scoring against Serbia

Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, celebrates with team-mate Wes Hoolahan, right, after scoring against Serbia

HIS OWN League of Ireland experience was very brief, just one league appearance in the shirt of Cork City in a less-than-glamorous 1-1 draw at home to Bray Wanderers.

That may not be the last time that Shane Long tastes League of Ireland action as the man who has racked up £14million in transfer fees ever since he left Cork City for a paltry thirty grand in 2005 says he would like to see out his playing days back home in the league, as he has watched with interest the repatriation of players like Keith Fahey and Stephen McPhail in recent weeks.

"You never know, I could be back in a Cork City shirt some day. Hopefully I have a good few years left in me and I can keep playing at the top level, but it would be nice to come back home and play in the league in Ireland at the end of my career," Long told the Herald, the striker taking time out after winning his 43rd cap against Serbia in midweek to reflect on the League of Ireland he left behind in 2005 and the one that kicks off a new season tonight.

That game against Serbia was significant as six players in the starting XI (David Forde, Seamus Coleman, Stephen Ward, James McClean, Wes Hoolahan and Long himself) as well as three of the subs deployed on the night (David Meyler, Daryl Murphy and Stephen Quinn) as well as one of the unused subs (Brian Murphy) all played in the league at home, something that Long was aware of.

"It's great that so many lads have come through now from the league. I think people are noticing it more than they did ten years ago when I was in the league," Long reflected.

"A lot of us went over to England from the League of Ireland, went there and put our case forward. And people focus on the lads who are in the senior international squad but you have other ex-LOI lads who are doing well in the other leagues, the likes of Dave Mooney at Orient. We are all holding our own.

"Seeing Keith Fahey and Stephen McPhail coming back home to play in the league has given the whole league a lift. And hopefully a few more players will come out of the league, go to England and then eventually step up to the senior Ireland squad."

Given the lack of promotion from the FAI's marketing department (have you seen a poster, a billboard or heard a radio ad anywhere to trumpet the arrival of the 2014 season?), it's hard for the punter non-aligned to the FAI to know that the league is back, but Long says he sees more interest.

"I think there is more of an awareness of the league now, more than there was 10 years ago," Long says.

"Where I am from in Tipperary is a hurling stronghold but soccer is starting to get more attention now, a lot more clubs have come up and even my local village has a soccer team.

"People are getting involved in it a bit more and maybe work can be done to get those people more into the League of Ireland.

"I know from being down in Cork that Cork City is such a big deal down there, Turner's Cross on the night of a big match is a great place to be and I'm sure it's like that all around the country now, in Derry and Dundalk and places like that as well."

And what of the 2014 season? With Cork City and Derry City revived since last season, Athlone Town back in the top flight for the first time in 18 years and Sligo Rovers eager to regain the league crown, the non-Dublin clubs will have a say, but Long says he sees the power resting in the capital.

"One of the things I like about the league is that every year you seem to have another team come along and make a challenge, you don't just have the same two or three teams going for the league all the time. Bohs had a good spell, Shamrock Rovers won it a couple of times, Sligo came in and now you have a very strong Pats side," he says.

"With Keith Fahey coming back to Pats, that's a great signing for them and it will give them a great lift. Pats will be the team to beat this year."