Belfast Telegraph

Long taking lessons from the past as Republic bid to banish 2012 woe

By Aidan Fitzmaurice

He was merely on the fringe in 2012, by his own admission, but Shane Long plans to be front and centre and capable of making a big impact at Euro 2016.

A frustrated figure who had just two short substitute appearances to show for his efforts in Poland, Long is much happier this time around.

Likely to start against Sweden on Monday - barring an insane team selection from Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill - the Tipperary man is caught in that middle ground of trying to learn the lessons from 2012 while not getting dragged down by bad memories.

"We've been here once before and didn't really perform the way we should have, and we've been regretting it for four years. So hopefully we can put that right this time," said Long.

"I was a bit of a fringe player four years ago. I think I got about 10 or 15 minutes on the pitch in total, but it was still an amazing experience and I have learned from it.

"I know straight after the second game (against Spain), with the disappointed heads in the dressing room, we knew that was more or less it - after the two years' hard work, to just let it fall like that.

"So I take experience from it. I know it can be all over so quickly, so I want to make sure, especially in the Sweden game, that we start off on the right foot."

That's clearly something they did not do in Poland, the game up - the Republic's game that is - minutes into the opening match against Croatia, when the classy Balkan side scored the first of their three goals against a helpless Shay Given.

A lot has changed in the intervening years - Given is no longer first-choice keeper and men like Simon Cox, Paul Green and Sean St Ledger have fallen far, far off the radar.

Long is no longer the man lacking the trust of the national team boss but is one of the few players in green of whom opposing sides are aware - be certain that Southampton striker Graziano Pelle has told Italy coach Antonio Conte about his club team-mate - and should start.

He's on form, has confidence coursing though those veins of his and, buoyed by his winning goal in qualifying against Germany last year, Long could be a key player this summer, but it wasn't always thus, as international football has often treated Long with a squinted eye of distrust.

Past history has not treated Long well in terms of international football but this is a chance for a new chapter.

"It's obviously a massive tournament, the Euros. It's a big thing, especially for a country like ours to qualify," Long said.

"There are a few historic moments over the years in big competitions and it hasn't really happened over the last 10 or 14 years. We have got our chance now to rewrite history and to make our own moments. I'm looking forward to being a part of that."

One man not looking forward to Euro 2016 is Scotland coach Gordon Strachan.

Given the preening and sneering from the Scots during the qualifiers, and especially in the aftermath of their win over the Republic in Glasgow and then their draw in Dublin, it's hard to look at the Scots through green-tinted lenses and feel sympathy, Strachan moaning this week that he can "hardly stomach" the thought of being in France as a TV analyst, not as one of the managers.

"People wrote us off. I think after we drew to Scotland, everyone was saying it was a three-horse race and we were out of it," Long recalled.

"It really spurred us to go on. Of course we relied on a few other results to go our way but we still had to capitalise on our games.

"Just to qualify is an amazing feeling. We've been here once before and we didn't really perform the way we should have or the way we can, and we've been regretting it for four years."

Rep of Ireland


Euro 2016 Group E

Saint-Denis, Monday, 5.00 pm

Belfast Telegraph