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longevity at SAINTS 
is a must now for shane
shane 
at saints

SHANE Long is at a crossing point. Tossed on the winds of Premier League commerce, he is rapidly accumulating the kind of club turnover statistics which make managers wonder.

As Roy Keane so quaintly put it, he is indeed "a piece of meat" but at some point in his career, Long needs to put down some roots and build a proper CV. Up to now, his scoring record is patchy and unconvincing for club and country.

With all due respect to Hull and Southampton fans, our only interest in his big money move is to see how it will impact on him when he pulls on a green shirt and we know from history that too many moves can spoil a striker.

Robbie Keane is still the best we have, as anyone who saw his fantastic goal for Galaxy in late July will admit but he will retire one day and Long is next in line. He needs to settle.

DISTINGUISHED

Keane had a similar moment in 2005 when he came face to face with an ageing Christian Veiri at Lansdowne Road, a player still good enough at 32 to be certainty for Italy's 2006 World Cup squad.

As it happened, Vieri damaged his knee and didn't go to Germany but he played on until 2009. His was a long and distinguished career.

They weren't great days for Ireland or for Keane at Spurs. He clearly didn't enjoy playing for Brian Kerr and he was, at best, fitfully good for Martin Jol.

But he still wore his trademark brash approach to the world like a shield and when the goals dry up, confidence looks like arrogance.

It is this period, perhaps more than any other which divided opinion about him in the stands and it seemed logical to many at the time that he needed to have a long hard look at himself or his career would hardly extend beyond the Noughties.

The gist of the advice which was showered on him was: "Knuckle down young man. Enough of the club to club stuff and just give it a right go at Spurs. Do that and you might be still banging them in at Vieri's age".

Knuckle down is just what Keane did. Previously becalmed at White Hart Lane, he went on to form a brilliant partnership with Dimitar Berbatov and all of eight years later, he's the leading international goalscorer in the world.

Shane Long is in that kind of place right now. He's bounced through three clubs in less than nine months and if he's honest, has never really found a rhythm since he first appeared at Reading, raw-boned and ill-prepared for what was in front of him.

Those who believe that Long could be something truly special, a 20+ goals a season man, when they saw him first saw his strength and pace and waited for the finish to come.

They would have to concede now that he would have to be a late bloomer indeed to make that kind of impact.

He has all the qualities needed apart from the most important one. He is not a natural finisher and there are very good reasons for that. Formative hours spent with a football in his hands rather than at his feet.

Steve Coppell felt that his GAA background gave him an unorthodox presence on the pitch which was a big advantage.

Coppell, of course, was thinking as Reading manager and the advantage he saw was to his team. But using Long as a wrecking ball with a goal threat didn't help develop his touch.

Watching Long during Ireland's summer schedule was a painful reminder that the hours he spent training with Tipperary might have been more usefully employed.

It was still easy to imagine Long in another universe, released from the wing by a hand pass and bearing down on goal in Croke Park; perhaps more easy than a daydream about him scoring the winner against Germany in the Aviva.

He misses too many chances and Martin O'Neill is painfully aware of that fact now.

Knuckling down has never been an issue for Long.

His habits are good and perhaps in the right environment, he can improve his final touch.

Certainly, he will be a confident young man starting this season.

It helps when a name like Ronald Koeman comes knocking on the door with an £12m offer.

Maybe the Dutch man will be the one to release Long's inner Robbie.


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