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Sunday 8 December 2019

End of road for Long?

'OK, boss' was Shane's response to squad axe as McCarthy decides to make risky call

Mick McCarthy doesn’t see Shane Long as being part of his Euro 2020 plans
Mick McCarthy doesn’t see Shane Long as being part of his Euro 2020 plans
Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy meets Bohemians U19 players, from left, Ross Tierney, manager Craig Sexton, Dawson Devoy and Alex Kelly ahead of their UEFA Youth League First Round game against PAOK. Photo: Sportsfile

Whatever people say about Mick McCarthy as he faces into a hectic two-game spell as Ireland manager, he can't be accused of being ageist.

He knows who he wants on the field and in his squad.

And whether that means a cold shoulder for a teenager making his way in the Premier League (Aaron Connolly) or a veteran of just under 300 Premier League appearances (Shane Long) or both, it's his call and one he'll stand by - both forwards not included in a 24-man squad named by McCarthy for the Euro 2020 double-header in Tbilisi and Geneva.

Connolly had just celebrated his seventh birthday back in Galway when Long made his international debut under Steve Staunton.

Active

Of the Ireland team which played that day in 2007, outside of Long only one (Anthony Stokes) is still active in the sport so that's a testament to how long the Tipperary lad has been around, so he is a survivor.

But has Long's race with Ireland been run?

It's quite possible that, at 32, his caps count will stop at his current tally (82).

Mick McCarthy hasn't picked him so far in a six-game unbeaten run as Ireland manager, hasn't selected him for the next two games and unless Long's club career can perk up over the next month, the November double-header against New Zealand and Denmark could also go ahead without him.

Long isn't the only stalwart to miss out, as Robbie Brady and James McCarthy were also unable to convince McCarthy of their fitness after an injury-scarred spell.

Long, Brady and James McCarthy have all been limited in game time this season, and McCarthy maintains the door is not closed on the trio.

Connolly will definitely have a senior international career, just not yet. Tbilisi is not the place for teenage debutants, McCarthy believes.

Long has started just two of the last 18 Ireland games so the cold shoulder is nothing new to the Southampton striker, who has also been forced to adapt to life on the bench with his club.

It's the lack of game time which counted against Long, as far as McCarthy was concerned. "I feel the guys have been playing more than Shane, that's for sure. He thought he was going to play in the League Cup tie last week but they put (Michael) Obafemi in," McCarthy said yesterday.

He didn't give too much detail of the conversation he had with Long when manager informed player of the squad. Asked if the chat was cordial he said "It was, yeah". McCarthy added that Long's response to the news was "ok, boss".

Long has said nothing publicly on the fact that the curtain is being pulled down on his Ireland career, against his will.

Privately, we can only assume that Long feels hard done by. Scott Hogan is in the Ireland squad ahead of Long but Hogan hasn't been deemed good enough to get into the starting XI for Stoke City in their last five league games. And Stoke are (according to the table) the worst team in England's second division.

In the format of the media release by the FAI, Alan Judge was included as one of the five centre forwards, even though few would consider Ipswich player Judge an out-and-out striker.

Of the four other forwards, three (Sean Maguire, Scott Hogan and Callum Robinson) have yet to score at international level, and Robinson is the only one to have played at Premier League level.

Ireland's Euro 2020 hopes may, eventually, fall on McCarthy's decision to omit Long (again), or the manager's belief that Connolly, still only 19, is not yet ready for the demands of senior international football. Especially away from home in a city (Tbilisi) where Ireland have never really played well and have usually been lucky to escape with something.

His team may struggle to find the path to goal in the two away games ahead - the second-top scorers in the current squad are Glenn Whelan and Jeff Hendrick, with two goals each.

But McCarthy has faith in the men he's chosen, even Hogan, who has struggled with club and country.

He now needs those men to prove him right.

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