EVEN THOUGH he is an Ireland veteran with six years' service and is closing in on the 50-cap mark, Shane Long admits he's still "star-struck" when it comes to dealing with the men in charge of the national team.
Long made his debut under Steve Staunton, tried to establish himself under Giovanni Trapattoni and is now hoping to progress under Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane, though the 26-year-old is still on the skittish side around the new number two.
"You are still a bit star-struck when you get to work with Roy Keane for the first time. No matter how experienced you are I think any lad in that dressing room would say the same," Long told the Herald. The West Brom man is hoping his goal-scoring contribution as a sub in Friday's win over Latvia can earn him a starting role in Poznan tonight.
"We were doing shooting practice before the game on Friday and all I could think of was not to make a fool of myself in front of Roy Keane.
"He puts that pressure on the lads as he knows he had high expectations of himself as a player and he demands the same of us now and that can only be a good thing."
Long had his struggles under Trapattoni, but he feels that, under the new manager, it's a clean slate.
"I do feel that this is a fresh start for everyone. The manager is a great person, he will pick the best team to do a job for the country, if you are doing your job at club level – in my case that means scoring goals – you can force his hand and force him to play you," Long stressed.
"I will go back to West Brom after this Poland game, try to get into the team every week and score goals and make sure I am in a stronger position for when we link up again in March."
Long has had his struggles at West Brom this season, so he hopes that a goal scored against Chelsea last week could start his own revival. "I was in the side at the start of the season, but then got injured. The lads picked up some points when I was out and it was hard for me to get back into the side, but the gaffer just told me to keep doing what I was doing and my chance would come, and, thankfully, it did against Chelsea last week."
In fact, it was a good few days for Long as he scored in his last two games, for club and country.
"It was nice to get a goal on Friday, I knew a chance might come my way once I got on and I needed to make an impact in the game, make a good first impression," Long explained.
"Someone told me after that it was an easy finish for me from Séamus' cross and that I just made it look hard, but, at the same time, if I had missed it, I would have been slaughtered by everyone.
"Any goal for your country is nice to get, that was my 10th for Ireland, so I was pleased to get into double figures and someone told me after the game that it was Ireland's 700th goal of all time, so that's a nice record to have. Friday was important as we needed to get a win for the new manager, but now we move on to a new challenge against the Poles.
"We all admire the new management team, they have a great track record, but it was still nice to do the business on the pitch the other night and get the win, but we know we have bigger tests ahead."
While the groundwork for Long's goal against Latvia was done by Jon Walters and Coleman, the ploy in using Wes Hoolahan in front of the midfield four was a success, and Long was pleased to see the ex-Shelbourne man trusted with the role.
"It's the manager's call who to play in the side and what formation to play. But for an attacking player, to have someone like Wes or Andy Reid in the side is a big plus," he said.
"I think we knew before Friday's game that Latvia would drop off a lot and leave space for someone to play in front of them, and Wes is great in that role, as is Andy Reid. It was a good option for us, we scored three goals and created a lot more chances."