Irish star saw effects of emigration on a recent trip home to Tipperary - now he wants to give them something to shout about at Euro 2012
EMIGRATION isn't just something that you read about if you're from a place like Gortanoe in Co Tipperary. Even if your name is Shane Long and you're a Premier League and international footballer worth £7million.
It's in the air and on the ground, something Long can see for himself any time he gets back home for a visit.
"When I went home to Gortnahoe recently I was going through my phone to see who I could ring to get them to come out to the house and say hello. But there was only one or two people left from my friends," Long told the Evening Herald.
"The rest are all gone off to London or Sydney or Perth, they've had to go there to find work.
"They love it out there but it's hard for the country, to be losing so many young people. Personally, it's hard for me to come back home for a visit and see that so many of my friends, even family, are missing as they've had to emigrate," Long ruefully admits, revealing that the scourge of the emigrant ship and plane has even come close to home as recession bites hard.
Some leave by choice - for Long it was a no-brainer to quit Cork City and move to Reading when he got the chance in 2005, and he led the way as his mother followed young Shane over to England, making sure that the teenager stayed well fed and on the right path, but others had little choice.
"My brother is over in London, my sister has gone back to college to get more qualifications as she couldn't find a job. Times are hard back in Ireland and there's no escaping it, and it seems to be getting worse," says Long.
It's one of the reasons why he feels that the Euro 2012 finals in June is more than just a football tournament, more than a three-game tour of Poland.
"We know that when we play our games, thousands of Irish people will be watching at all hours in places like Sydney and New York and all over the world, we know they would prefer to be watching in Ireland - or with us in Poland as fans - but they've had to leave for work and we'd like to do them proud at the finals," Long says.
"I know that times are hard back in Ireland now. But the Euros has, I think, given people a lift. A lot of Irish fans will be able to make it over there as it's not going to be that expensive to go, compared to South Korea ten years ago when not many could afford to go. It's something for the country to look forward to and as players, we are aware of what it means to people," Long says.
At times, Long does reflect on the journey he has taken, from the baby-faced hurler who played a bit of soccer for St Michael's in Tipperary town, on to Cork City, then on to Reading and his most recent stop, the massive riches of a contract with West Brom.
But he's also aware that he is lucky. "I do sometimes think 'That could be me' in terms of the people heading off to Oz. I had a bit of luck in that I got a chance to go to Cork City when a scout recommended me to Pat Dolan, then another stroke of luck when I got away to Reading. I was in the right place at the right time," Long says.
At the moment the season has slowed down for Long - and for his compatriots at the Hawthorns - as West Brom are managing quite well without their Irish stars. Steven Reid is of course sidelined for the rest of the season with a knee injury but Long and Simon Cox have spent a lot of time on the bench in recent weeks and only Keith Andrews has been starting games with any regularity.
Long did manage to score in last week's defeat to Newcastle United but he's started only once in five games since he returned from injury. Long knows that his place in the Ireland side is not set in stone but he hopes that past contributions and some good form with West Brom in the final weeks of the season can help.
"If Kevin Doyle and Jon Walters and Robbie Keane are playing every week it's only fair that they'd be the favourites when the Euros come around," he says.
"But there are two games in the build up as well, Bosnia and Hungary, so you never know how the boss might look at it, he might see it as a case of fresh legs. But I will be ready no matter what happens at West Brom."