Former ireland manager Brian Kerr believes Shane Long has what it takes to become first choice striker for the international team.
The 26-year-old was seen as back-up to the likes of Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle and Simon Cox under Giovanni Trapattoni and was often frustrated by the Italian’s decision to leave him out.
Long enjoyed an excellent campign with West Brom last season – scoring 12 goals as the Baggies finished eighth in the Premier League – but has endured an indifferent first couple of months this term.
After finally opening his account in the draw with Chelsea, however, Long found the back of the net in the friendly with Latvia and came up with two terrific goals against Aston Villa on Monday night.
The Tipperary native will now be hoping to maintain his current form after kick-starting his season. Speaking at the launch of the Brendan McKenna Memorial Award yesteday, Kerr, who managed Ireland between 2003-2005, is pleased to see Long rediscovering his goalscoring touch.
“His goals for West Brom were sensational and he is obviously playing with confidence after a great goal against Chelsea,” Kerr said.
“Looking at his performances over the last couple of games you can see that the supporters would be very upset if they let him leave the club. They’re not in the situation they were in last season.
“I think a lot of players like playing with him and behind him because you know he’s going to run after things and chase them down.
“You look at the problems other clubs are having at the moment with some of their strikers coming short and wanting to be involved in the link-up. They don’t stretch teams by running in behind them and he does.”
The former Cork City and Reading forward was linked with a move away from the Hawthorns over the summer and came close to joining Hull on transfer deadline day. As recently as last month he admitted that he would consider a move elsewhere but manager Steve Clarke has backed him in recent weeks.
I was surprised about the whole Hull thing but it would indicate that there are some deficiencies in his game but it might have been a financial issue at the time.”added Kerr.
“It might have been the number of strikers they had and the form they were in. Maybe they felt they were going to get Lukaku, I don’t know.”
At international level, Long has a new management team to impress in Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane. Having come off the bench to score against Latvia, he started up front away to Poland but had a relatively quiet night in Poznan before being substituted off with 17 minutes remaining.
O’Neill won’t be naming his next squad until Ireland face Serbia in March and Kerr thinks it could be his time to come to the fore.
I’ve always thought that he is a likely long term player for Ireland. He’s had to play second fiddle to Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle at times. Under Trapattoni, it was hard to know what he really thought of him because he messed him around a little bit and didn’t seem to have the confidence in him.
“It was hard to dispute the fact that Doyle was very effective and his pairing with Robbie often worked. He (Long) looked a very frustrated player at the end of the Trapattoni era when he was being brought on late in games or being left on the bench.
“And then when he came into the matches he did some silly things and it looked like he was taking out his frustration on the opposition and the referee. I don’t think that helped his cause. But he plays the one up front role particularly well.
“We had two contrasting matches. In one game we had all the ball and there was no necessity to play one up. He got around quite well in Poland but didn’t really have too many clear cut opportunities. He had one in the first half when he spun and shot over. But his energy, effort and graft were good.
“I think he needs a long run of games to get his fitness level up. I thought he ran out of steam looking at the match on Monday night and felt the same in Poland.”
Former Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr yesterday helped to launch the Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland’s (SWAI) Brendan McKenna Memorial Award for 2013. For more information, visit www.swai.ie