Monday 16 September 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'It's damning that the manager feels that he can do without Shane Long's experience'

Shane Long celebrates that goal against Germany
Shane Long celebrates that goal against Germany
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THE international career of Shane Long will always be remembered for a glorious strike against Germany four years ago that gave Ireland the crucial push towards the Euro 2016 finals.

No matter what he does between now and the end of his career, that's the clip that will likely be repeated whenever he retires.

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But the 32-year-old's exclusion from Mick McCarthy's trimmed down list for the crunch showdown with Switzerland suggests that the Ireland boss has lost faith in the Southampton striker's ability to help his country towards the 2020 renewal.

The exclusion is easily explained of course. Long has yet to feature in the league for the Saints this term with his sole appearance coming off the bench at Fulham on Tuesday.

Michael Obafemi, who goes with the U-21 squad this time around, is ahead of Long in the eyes of Ralph Hasenhuttl. He started and scored at Fulham.

McCarthy has weighted his selection towards players that are in action with their clubs, although you sense that there would be exceptions to the rule for individuals of immense importance. He said that he was confident enough that Jeff Hendrick would be fit enough to figure even though he's lost his place at Burnley. The midfielder did at least get a full EFL Cup run out this week.

Long has yet to play for McCarthy having missed both the March and summer gatherings through injury and that hasn't helped him to cement a place in the new regime.

Still, it's damning that the manager feels that he can do without his experience given that he has opted to go with four strikers that have never scored a goal at either Premier League or international level.

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David McGoldrick and Callum Robinson have just graduated to the top flight and should alter the club aspect of that statistic with Sheffield United this term having started the season up top.

Sean Maguire has avoided mishaps in pre-season and is finally getting a prolonged run at Preston in the Championship.

Scott Hogan is also in the second tier after being deemed surplus to requirements at Aston Villa. He's managed to get on the scoresheet on loan at Stoke.

And that recency bias is worth more than Long's career body of work.

Time catches up with everyone, but the pace of this slump is slightly surprising. In April, Long became just the fourth Irishman to score 50 Premier League goals - Robbie Keane, Niall Quinn and Damien Duff had got there first - by striking early against Liverpool during an encouraging conclusion to his club campaign.

SOCCER Fi (33).jpg
Southampton’s Shane Long scores in the League Cup semi-final. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

He spoke of how he was entering the final year of his contract, a lucrative £60k-a-week deal secured after his £12m move from Hull in 2014, and needed to do much more in the 2019/20 season to justify opening talks about a renewal.

Summer purchase Che Adams has strengthened Hasenhuttl's armoury and Obafemi is the rising star. Long's plight looks bleak and it's hard to see another suitor coming forward with that type of contract offer. Come January, he might have a decision to make.

It is fair to say that Long's Irish journey has been stop start. He had his issues with Giovanni Trapattoni and fell in and out of Martin O'Neill's affections. By the business end of the attempt to make Russia 2018, Daryl Murphy was deemed a superior option.

Long had served his time behind Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle in the anticipation that age would eventually give him a stint as the top dog. But that never came to pass. Inconsistently halted his march. He had come off the bench to down the Germans with that unforgettable right footer, with the role of impact sub perhaps best suited to his skillset as opposition defences tired.

That viewpoint would have provided the basis of the argument for bringing Long in next week and listing him on the bench. McCarthy has clearly decided that there are better options to get him out of jail if that scenario comes to pass.

The exhilaration of that Germany goal is arguably the best moment that Irish football has enjoyed at the Aviva Stadium, but the prospect of major tournament games in Dublin next summer has the potential to surpass it. For Long, it now resembles a distant dream.

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