SHANE LONG KNOWS that now is the time to step up and lead from the front.
With record goalscorer Robbie Keane ruled out due to club commitments, Long looks set to start in attack when Ireland meet Serbia in Dublin.
It’s seven years since he pulled on the green jersey for his first senior appearance and, if he plays, tomorrow’s friendly will be his 44th cap.
Despite those years of experience, Long feels that 2013 was a particularly significant moment in his international development.
“I think I was here for four or five years on the bench and coming off the bench. Last year was the first year where I got start after start,” he explained after collecting the 3/FAI International Goal of the Year award for his Wembley header against England.
“It has been tough to break through with Robbie there scoring goals every week so I’ve been biding my time and slowly progressing my career and learning more as a player.
“Hopefully I can bring that into the Irish set-up.”
Source: Alastair Grant
With Keane temporarily out of the picture, Long is easily the most experienced international striker in Martin O’Neill’s squad this week.
He turned 27 in January and although he still has plenty of time left at the top, he knows that international opportunities can slip away quite quickly.
Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign doesn’t begin until September but with no World Cup to look forward to this summer, that has already become the focus.
“When I first came into the squad, some of the older players were saying that we had a good chance to make it to the finals and you won’t get this chance often.
“While you took what they were saying on board, you didn’t really understand it until you got to later on in your career and you know that these chances might not come around too much more.
“We’ve got two people in now to manage us that know the game inside out and are going to give us every chance to get to a finals. I think we have good enough quality on the pitch to do it as well.
“It’s all teed up for a good future for Irish football and it’s up to us to produce on the pitch.”