Wednesday 26 September 2018

Goal-hungry Ireland strikers have tended to find their touch when it counts

Seamus Coleman, right, and Shane Long of Republic of Ireland prior to the FIFA World Cup Qualifier Group D match between Wales and Republic of Ireland at Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Seamus Coleman, right, and Shane Long of Republic of Ireland prior to the FIFA World Cup Qualifier Group D match between Wales and Republic of Ireland at Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Aidan Fitzmaurice

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Amid all the glory heaped, deservedly so, on the shoulders of Robbie Keane when he retired from international football last year, one fact remained buried away.

Keane’s form, and lack of goals for Ireland, led to him being dropped for a World Cup qualifier, back in 2001.

Shane Long has a lot to grapple with this week, the striker clearly eager to end a scoring famine with club and country which has now gone on for 28 matches.

Maybe Long needs advice from an old pro like Keane, perhaps he needs a good cop/bad cop routine from Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane, one man putting the arm around Long in sympathy and the other, the bad cop, giving him a kick in the area where Jeff Hendrick has been suffering pain this week.

Maybe Long needs to just do what he always does, train away, wait for the goals to come and then enjoy them. To go 28 games without scoring is very rare for a top-level striker, though Long’s current goal drought with Ireland (only five games since his last goal) is not new. Mick McCarthy made a big call by dropping Keane for a qualifier away to Estonia in June 2001, Damien Duff and Niall Quinn starting up front.

Keane had gone six games without a goal for his country, his club career was unsettled with his move to, and then away from, Inter Milan. In Tallinn, Keane had to see Gary Doherty and Andy O’Brien summoned from the bench as he kicked his heels and watched a 2-0 win.

And it still took time for the goals to come: Keane started against Croatia and Holland, and was again ‘rested’ at home to Cyprus, before Keane found the net again, in the win over Iran.

Other Ireland strikers before Keane could share that pain: of the five men who come in between Keane and Long in the all-time scoring charts, three of them (Frank Stapleton, Don GIvens and Tony Cascarino) all played 11 internationals in a row without scoring.

John Aldridge won 19 caps in succession at the start of his Ireland career without finding the net. As he stated in his Herald column earlier this week, the pressure did get to Aldo but he knew the goals would come.

“I took an age to get my first Ireland goal and it did play on my mind in a big way,” Aldo said.

“You could see in the Moldova game at the Aviva Stadium last month that Shane was panicking when the ball came his way.”

Long has found the net in Denmark before: he scored twice in a 2-0 win for Steve Staunton’s side in a friendly here in 2007. He has scored in big games before, his goal at home to Germany in the Euro 2016 qualifiers truly one for the ages.

Daryl Murphy has been on form with his club and he’s fit again after injury, so O’Neill has the option of starting one Munster-born former League of Ireland striker (Murphy) ahead of another (Long).

But goal-hungry Ireland strikers have tended to find their touch when it counts, like Keane ending his famine with a vital goal against Iran. Long can only hope he gets the chance tomorrow.

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