In association with Electric Ireland
Tipperary hurling lost Shane Long to soccer, but Long had lost none of what he learned and honed competing at minor level in the GAA.
Before he scored era-defining goals for the Republic of Ireland and made Premier League history, Shane Long was one of the most talented minor hurlers in Ireland. He remains the only athlete to have played hurling and international soccer at Croke Park.
The Southampton striker may have swapped the small ball for the soccer ball, but the lessons he learned playing hurling have helped to make him the star he is today. Minor hurling helped forge his selfless nature, honed his athleticism and influenced his style of play right down to his ability in front of goal. Long had started out as a defender in soccer but, perhaps influenced by his goalscoring ability in hurling, moved upfield to become a striker.
In the 2003 Munster Minor Hurling Championship final against Cork, Tipperary recorded victory thanks to the future Ireland striker. Tipp beat the Rebel County 2-12 to 0-16, and it was Long’s goals that decided the day in Thurles. Cork had the better of the first half, going into the break 0-8 to 1-3, with Long’s goal making sure his side had something to play for in for the second period. His second goal of the tie was the spark that ignited a late push which saw Tipperary reign supreme on the day.
Darragh Egan, David Young, Paddy Stapleton, Kieran Bergin and James Woodlock were among his teammates against Cork in the minor final in 2003 that went on to represent Tipperary at senior level, but Long was to take a different path. After registering 2-1 that afternoon in Thurles, the Gortnahoe-native scored 2-2 against Cork in the Munster Hurling Minor Final the following year, only this time to end up on the losing side.
Not long after that, he joined Cork City on a scholarship. Within a year, he would sign for Reading. Two years after that he made the first of his 82 appearances for the Republic of Ireland team and was a Premier League player. Tipperary hurling had lost Long to soccer, but Long had lost none of what he learned and honed competing at minor level in Gaelic games – including his impressive athleticism.
“The power of him for a young chap, and the leap, I’ve never witnessed anything like it before,” Woodlock said about his former teammate.
“He had such a bounce off the ground and could reach unbelievable heights. For a 16-year-old to be on the minor team at the time, you had to be exceptional.
“He was extremely good in the air, had pace, and was an excellent finisher. He had the pace to get away from an opponent, to make room for himself every time.”
It may have been in a different code, at a different stage of his career, but the same athleticism and reading of the game Long displayed as a minor hurler has served him well in football. This was best epitomised last season when he won the ball from the tip-off and kept his cool, before running through on goal against Watford to score the Premier League’s quickest-ever goal after 7.69 seconds back in April. Long’s leap, pace, power and courage made the difference, just as it did in minor hurling for Tipperary and Gortnahoe-Glengoole and when he scored the famous goal against Germany.
Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign was in jeopardy when they hosted the world champions in October 2015. Martin O’Neill’s team needed a win against football aristocrats who had put six goals past the Boys In Green when they visited Dublin two years previously. Long ensured Ireland would have an unforgettable month in France the following summer thanks to an unstoppable run from deep and a stunning strike past Manuel Neuer.
Some say he doesn’t score enough goals, a somewhat unfair accusation given his performances at international level where Long has scored 17 goals for the Boys in Green. Only six players have scored more for the country. Long netted when it mattered most that night, just as he did in the minor finals back in 2003 and 2004.
However, more important than any physical or technical attribute Long developed in minor hurling, competing in Gaelic games gave him the grounding and humility needed to excel in one of the world’s most competitive leagues, in the globe’s richest sport. “I’ve met him a couple of times in the last 10 years on social nights out in Thurles,” Woodlock said.
“He’s still the same Shane Long and we’d have the chat about hurling. He still loves the hurling and he’s a great supporter of his own club at home, Gortnahoe-Glengoole. He looks after them well.”
The Premier League and almost a century of caps at international level haven’t changed Long. His skills, mentality and outlook were forged in minor hurling, giving him the base and grounding to excel on the biggest stage of a different sport.
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