- Gortnahoe, Tipperary
- Slovakia, March 2007
- Current Team
- Republic of Ireland, Southampton
- January 22, 1987
For a team that has relied heavily on the skills and goal scoring heroics of Robbie Keane the all-important position of the striker will continue to be under intense scrutiny as the Boys in Green continue to battle for a place at Euro 2016. The most noteworthy of these forwards is Southampton’s Shane Long. Following his performance off the bench and his crucial last minute equalizer against Poland in Aviva Stadium in March 2015 Irish eyes are now focused on what else the former hurler from Tipperary can bring to the side.
Long is a native of Gortnohoe, Co. Tipperary and like many from the Premier county grew up with hurling in his blood. As a talented forward he appeared in two All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship semi-finals and was making progress on making the senior team. Long’s first played football at St. Kevin’s FC in Two Mile Borris before moving to St. Michael’s in Tipperary Town, which was where a Cork City scout spotted his potential. At only just 16 Long made the difficult decision to leave behind a promising career as a Tipperary hurler and take his chances on a life in football with the Leesiders.
During his 18-month stint at Cork City Long made only two appearances off the bench in a very strong side that included his future Reading and Republic of Ireland teammate Kevin Doyle. In the summer of 2005, Reading scout Brian McDermott offered both Long and Doyle a contract under the stewardship of Steve Coppell at the Madejski Stadium. It was a monumental move for Long who had begun entertaining thoughts of returning to hurling in Tipperary. From that day forward the time spent on the green fields of home with a hurl and sliotar in hand were now officially over.
In Long’s first season at the club Reading were promoted to the top table in English football for the first time in their history. The Royals then managed to defy pre-season predictions of relegation by finishing 8th with a total of 55 points. That was as good as it got however as the club struggled in its second season in the top flight and were relegated to the Championship. During Reading’s ascendancy Long mostly played second fiddle to fellow Irishman Kevin Doyle but following relegation he started to weave his way into the first team.
Due to his growing stature at club level Shane received a call up to the Irish squad, making his debut in the 2-1 away win against San Marino in a European Championship qualifier in February 2007. The following month saw Ireland memorably step onto the hallowed turf of Croke Park for the first time. In the process Shane Long made history by becoming the first person to play both hurling and international football at the home of the GAA following his appearance from the bench in the 1-0 win over Slovakia. In the same year he scored his first international goals in friendlies against Bolivia and Denmark leading to a nomination for the FAI Young Player of the Season.
During his final season at Reading in 2010/11 Long scored a total of 28 goals in 58 matches for club and country. He was awarded Reading’s Player of the Season as the club narrowly missed out on a place back in the Premier League having lost to Swansea in the Championship play-off final. Long’s return to the Premier League was soon to follow however as West Bromwich Albion stepped in for his services. With goals against Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal he finished his first season at the Baggies with a total of 8 Premier League goals.
In the 2014 January transfer window Shane made the move to the KC Stadium and Hull City but his time with the Yorkshire side was brief due to a move to Southampton FC following the summer break. The 2014/15 season would prove to be pivotal for both the Saints and Shane Long. The 6-1 demolition of Aston Villa in particular proved how an inspired Shane Long can be near impossible to contain. Long not only provided 2 assists to Sadio Mane on his way to scoring the fastest ever hat-trick in the history of the Premier League but also chipped in with two goals himself including a 35-yard-lob over the head of Shay Given that was voted Southampton’s Goal of the Season.
With a total of 12 international goals under his belt there is no denying Long’s impact when pulling on the green jersey. In May 2013 he scored a header against England in a friendly at Wembley Stadium, which for many Irish fans was a memorable moment against the old enemy on their own turf. With the return leg of that friendly due to be staged at the Aviva Stadium in early June, followed by the must win qualifier against Scotland Martin O’Neill must choose between his prized Premier League asset or the undoubted experience and craft of the admittedly slowing Robbie Keane.
- Author: Julie O’Leary