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Wednesday 18 October 2017

Shane's long run without goal to end

No strikes in 23 games for striker but Roy feels luck will change

Shane Long celebrates his goal in the Group D win over Moldova in Chisinau on October 9th, 2016 - the last time Long scored for his country
Shane Long celebrates his goal in the Group D win over Moldova in Chisinau on October 9th, 2016 - the last time Long scored for his country
Ireland have struggled for goals in the wake of the retirement of Robbie Keane

Enda Kenny was Taoiseach and Tom Petty was hale and hearty, preparing for a new tour of the USA.

That's how long ago it was since Shane Long put the ball in the net, for club or country, a long run that's seen him go 23 games without scoring a goal.

The bonus for Long is that, while goals are very hard to come by, he is getting minutes on the pitch while in the employ of his club and the fact that he completed 90 minutes for Southampton last weekend is good news.

Saints manager Mauricio Pellegrino has kept faith with the Tipperary man as those around him in a Southampton shirt are not exactly wading through the banknotes from a goal-scoring bonus: Long may be drawing a blank but no Southampton player has scored more than once this season so it's a curse that's befallen his the club, not just the boy from Gortnahoe.

But a goal from Long on Friday night would be as overdue as it would be welcomed. He has found the net just once in the last 13 internationals, that in the 3-1 win away to Moldova 12 months ago.

Since then, Long has played against Serbia, Georgia, Iceland and Wales. Before Long scored in Chisinau he had managed an eight-game run without a goal, his previous one in a pre-Euros friendly against Holland.

We have been here before with the national team. Tough times, bleak spells, barren runs and doubts nagging into the morale of the player who is in the team to score goals.

John Aldridge of course had that long, long run of matches in green, 20 of them without a goal, before his first. Of many.

Deadliest

Long is not helped by other factors. The retirement of Robbie Keane means that the burden placed on his shoulders to score goals for Ireland only becomes clearer as time goes by. Any striker to follow in Keane's wake with Ireland will be compared, unfairly, to one of the deadliest strikers in the history of game, whose goals tally with Ireland will never be matched.

In previous eras, that baton was passed from man to man without much of a wait, from Givens to Stapleton to Quinn to Aldridge to Keane.

In times gone by, we had men to share the burden, men who did the work of scoring goals at club level and brought that to the international stage.

In his first season in the Premier League (2006/07), Kevin Doyle alone scored 13 goals. Last season the entire Irish contingent in the Premier League scored 19 goals between them, defender Seamus Coleman the joint top scorer. With four goals.

Ireland don't have free-scoring strikers in the Premier League. Only four players from the Republic have scored in that division this season, two of them (Stephen Ward and Ciarán Clark) defenders.

O'Neill suggested last week that for a striker to go 23 games without a goal, any goal, would damage the confidence but having seen the player around the camp (but not the training ground, Long rested from training for the last two days), Roy Keane feels the barren run will end.

"There is also that belief about Shane, and a striker, that when you are going on a run that you always believe the next game will be the one when it all turns around," said Keane.

"So you could look at it from another point of view whereby it can't keep going because eventually, because of his strengths, if he is willing enough to keep getting in there, then the law of averages will say that hopefully he will put the ball in the back of the net.

"It didn't quite happen the last few games but hopefully it'll happen on Friday if he's fit. It's nice for Shane to see other strikers coming in because you can't beat that bit of competition. And you hope Shane will respond to that.

"He is obviously back in his club team at Southampton, we watched him on Saturday. Sometimes it is up to the player. But you also have to say about Shane, sometimes he just needs a bit of luck, a lucky deflection, and you earn that bit of luck. Hopefully Shane can do that next week."

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