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Ian Rush: Thanks to Shane Long, Robbie is in it for Long haul

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Christophe Berra of Ipswich and Shane Long of Southampton battle for the ball during the FA Cup third round replay match between Ipswich Town and Southampton

Christophe Berra of Ipswich and Shane Long of Southampton battle for the ball during the FA Cup third round replay match between Ipswich Town and Southampton

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Christophe Berra of Ipswich and Shane Long of Southampton battle for the ball during the FA Cup third round replay match between Ipswich Town and Southampton

As someone who spent a fair chunk of my life figuring out the art of forward play, I watched Shane Long's performance on Wednesday with a degree of fascination.

I'm a big fan of his. Aside from the excellence of his technique used to score the only goal of the game in Southampton's victory over Ipswich in the FA Cup, Long delivered a performance full of energy.

Players like that are a manager's dream. They're selfless to the point they would do the work of two men, something Martin O'Neill will have noted as he reflected on a game where Long re-enforced his status as a top Premier League marksman.

At 34, O'Neill knows Robbie Keane is suited for certain games but not others. Why else did he leave him on the bench for the European Championship qualifier in Celtic Park?

Yet at a time when the trend is to increasingly use three men in midfield, O'Neill will now be considering the possibility of uniting Long and Keane together in Ireland's attack.

Yes, Robbie is not the man he once was. At 34, how could he be? Yet he still has an important part to play and with Long around, he can save his energy for the penalty box, knowing his strike partner will do the donkey work outside the box.

That's one option for O'Neill. Another is to drop Robbie and play Long on his own up front in games like Germany at home or Poland away.

The work-ethic Shane possesses allows Robbie to play off the shoulder of the last defender, to be around for flick-ons, to benefit from his partner's selflessness.

Technically, Long has improved greatly over the years since his arrival in Reading as a raw teenager over a decade ago.

His link play is really impressive now. He reads the game well, too, as he showed when he stayed wide in the Ipswich penalty area on Wednesday, before slotting a loose ball to the opposition net with just one, assured touch.

Not that long ago, you couldn't imagine an Irish team without Robbie Keane in it. Now, that fear is not as great. Realistically, though, the team would be best served with both Long and Keane in it.

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