On Monday, Martin O’Neill named his provisional Ireland squad for the internationals against Mexico, Uruguay and Austria with one lesser known name making the cut.
Many Ireland fans will already be familiar with Kevin Long and in recent weeks his name has been exposed even more after breaking into the Burnley starting eleven. This has come after a torrid time with injury which has restricted Long to just 24 appearances for the Clarets since joining in 2010. His Premier League debut came in 2015 but a cruciate injury in the same game against Newcastle forced a lengthily lay off.
His recent appearances for Burnley shows Sean Dyche’s high opinion of the 26-year-old with his ability also noticed by fellow countyman Roy Keane. Despite having barely kicked a football in recent months, Long has looked relatively comfortable in his two top-flight appearances at a club that has a strong Irish contingent. However just getting to the stage of being considered for a start has taken some time. He summed up his frustration following his injury prone couple of years.
“It’s been a tough year but it’s been a nice reward, getting a few games in towards the end of the season and I’ve really been enjoying it. Playing games in the Premier League is one of the highest levels you can play at, so people do take notice when you are playing.” Via Irish Times.
His Career so far
Long began his career at Cork City, breaking into the side as an 18-year-old where his physicality and potential for the Leesiders made it hard to believe he was still a teenager. English clubs were familiar with City following the scouting of Kevin Doyle, Roy O’Donovan, Shane Long and David Meyler to name a few. This brought much British interest in the young defender and he finally sealed a move to Burnley after impressing on trial.
Long enjoyed several loan spells as he worked his way up through the ranks at Turf Moor. He had spells at Accrington Stanley, Rochdale, Portsmouth, Barnsley and MK Dons. It was at Stanley that he showed his physical edge and looked well above what was needed for the standards of League 2. With just under 100 appearances in England, the hope would be that Long’s career is finally taking shape.
Style of play
Long is an imposing centre-half with a solid build standing at 6’3. He is an old fashioned no-nonsense defender who is best in the aerial battle. Although he can be slow to get the ball out from his feet, Long is not afraid to play the ball out from the back, but in his last two Burnley appearances he has benefited from playing beside the more technically gifted James Tarkowski.
Long suits the style of centre-half that Martin O’Neill strives for. With a very similar playing style and build to Shane Duffy, Long represents a player who is not afraid to put himself about and put his body on the line. This attritional style of play may not have helped with his injury issues but O’Neill may view the Corkman as a capable deputy to the likes of Duffy or Richard Keogh who both have ability to bully strikers.
Can he feature next month?
O’Neill has the strange tendency to select large provisional squads, with many uncapped players usually the victims of the final cut. However with two friendlies on the agenda, Long may be given the opportunity to keep his momentum going. The fact Dyche has stuck with him for this long given his injury issues shows that he has tremendous ability once given the opportunity and that could be the same internationally.
He is a Martin O’Neill-type defender and is a dwindling breed of Irish players still in England’s top flight. Fellow Cork man John Egan failed to impress against Iceland but will most likely be given a chance to make amends while Andy Boyle could feature ahead of Long in the auditions prior to Austria.
Long would certainly be worth a shot but at least a not being involved this time will allow him to attend his brother’s wedding.
“I think I will miss it,” the Corkman, who was supposed to be a groomsman, told the Burnley website. “He won’t be too happy, but if I play a game he’ll be all right.”
“I’m in the squad, so I want to play a game. If you’re involved, everyone is going to want to play. I will go there, train as best I can and see what happens. It will be good to meet up for the first time, get to know the people, see what the training is like and hopefully I can do all right.”
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena