Sunday 20 January 2019

50-cap Long spurred by 'pain' of past campaigns

SHANE LONG believes that the "pain" of past disappointments with Ireland will drive the current bunch of players through the next qualifying campaign, starting tomorrow evening in Georgia.

And the Tipperary lad says that while he will be honoured to pick up his 50th senior cap if he plays in Tbilisi, he has put aside personal goals to focus on qualification.

"With all that's happened this Irish team in the last few years - the few bits of bad luck, getting older, not qualifying - it's been hard," Long admitted to The Herald.

"And I don't want to feel that pain again, the pain of not qualifying. The longer you play the less time you have in the future, the fewer chances you have of playing in a major finals.

"This is a tough group but it is very doable. If we can start off well on Sunday with three points and put ourselves in a good frame of mind for the group we will be in good stead. We just have to do all we can to get the win in Georgia.

"It won't be the end of the world if the drop points, Georgia are very strong at home and hard to break down. We have to be on top of our game to get anything there but we know from the past that these countries are hard places to go to.

"Hopefully we'll have some points on board before the tough away games against Germany and Scotland later this year."

Having made his debut in 2007, Long has crept up on the 50-cap mark and can reach that tomorrow if picked.

"It's a big honour to get to 50 caps at such a young age. When I started off in football I never thought I'd get even one, let alone 50, so Sunday will be very special for me if I get to play.

"But tomorrow isn't about me, it's about the team getting a win and getting off to a good start in the group. If we win and I play and do well I can pat myself on the back then, but now it's not something to think about," added Long, still settling in at his new club, Southampton.

"The move has gone well. I played out wide last week and that was a new position for me but I think it's one that will suit me in time. I am still learning how to play out there, it's a new element in my game."

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