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Long relishing Celtic Park clash

Celtic fan Shane Long is hoping to go some of the way towards fulfilling two dreams if he gets the chance to line up against Scotland on Friday evening.

The striker, who reminded international boss Martin O'Neill of his ability with a match-winning double in Southampton's 2-0 Barclays Premier League victory over Leicester on Saturday, will make his first visit to Celtic Park as the Republic of Ireland attempt to maintain a fine start to their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Indeed, Long admits the result in Glasgow could play a major part in determining how Group D finally pans out with the Irish currently three points better off than this week's hosts.

The 27-year-old said: "It is massive. We have kind of been unlucky with the draws we have been getting with groups - we have a very tough group.

"Going to Celtic Park to play Scotland is going to be a massive occasion, and one I am really eager to be a part of. It is going to be a tough game. Scotland have really upped their game the last couple of years and they will see this as a chance to get three points as well.

"It could - and I might be overreacting here - really make or break how we get on in this campaign.

"If we don't lose there, it will go a long way towards us qualifying."

Like many of his compatriots, Long has a soft spot for Celtic and is thrilled at the prospect of being involved at a stadium which was home to Republic manager Martin O'Neill for five years and provided winger Aiden McGeady with his big chance in football.

However, while he admits his excitement at the prospect of playing there, he is adamant that neither he nor any of his team-mates will allow the occasion to get to them.

Long said: "It will be amazing. I've never been to Celtic Park, but I am a big Celtic fan. I couldn't afford it when I was a kid, so it has always been a dream of mine to go and play there.

"Hopefully I will get some time on the pitch, and coming away from there with three points would go a long way in us qualifying.

"I won't let the whole atmosphere of it overshadow what a very important game it is for Ireland as a whole. Getting three points there could really set us up.

"We have a good week's training ahead of us. We're in a good place at the moment in Irish football, so hopefully that can continue on the pitch."

Long is enjoying a fine season with both club and country with the Saints continuing to defy the odds by remaining in second place in the league table, while Ireland too have raised a few eyebrows with their positive start on the road to France.

That was cemented by last month's 1-1 draw against group favourites and reigning world champions Germany in Gelsenkirchen, which was secured by defender John O'Shea's late equaliser.

Long said: "We [Southampton] have been flying. I think confidence is a lot to do with it, but we do have a good of set players.

"Ireland as well - the last-minute equaliser by John O'Shea against Germany has kind of kept us up the table, kept us points off teams around us.

"I think we always looked at the campaign with Scotland and Poland being our biggest enemies, our biggest competition, in getting that second place.

"These games are big for us, and we know that."

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