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Tuesday 16 January 2018

Kevin's long game pays off at clarets

Ireland man delighted with role in Burnley's Euro push

Burnley’s Irish defender Kevin Long, pictured in action against Watford’s Jose Holebas last Saturday, is likely to take his place again in the Clarets’ line-up for tonight’s Premier League clash with Stoke City. Pic: Reuters
Burnley’s Irish defender Kevin Long, pictured in action against Watford’s Jose Holebas last Saturday, is likely to take his place again in the Clarets’ line-up for tonight’s Premier League clash with Stoke City. Pic: Reuters

At the age of 27, he is anything but an overnight success.

But Ireland international Kevin Long is determined to make the most of his run - if one game can be considered a run - in the first team with Burnley and stay in the manager's thoughts.

Confidence at Turf Moor high after a weekend win over Watford, Sean Dyche's side are back in Premier League action again tonight, at home to Stoke, Burnley aware that a win would see them jump over some much bigger names and into the top four, the heady heights of a Champions League place.

Longest-serving

That top-four placing might only last for 24 hours as the teams who would be overtaken by Burnley, should they win at home to Stoke tonight, are all in action tomorrow evening (Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham) and all three will expect to win their matches.

Burnley remained in the top seven on the back of that weekend win, where Cork native Long came in for his first Premier League appearance of the season: before Saturday he has seen more action in the World Cup qualifiers this season (he was a sub in the win away to Wales) than in the Premier League.

He got the nod in defence as Ben Mee was injured and Dyche is unsure if Mee, who was an ever-present in the league before last week, will be fit but for his part, Long is ready to do the job again.

"It was nice to be back out there. I don't know what situation Ben is in but hopefully if I'm called on again I do well," said Long.

It's strange that Long, who joined Burnley from Cork City in 2010, is the club's longest-serving player and yet he has started just 22 league games for the Clarets in that time.

He enjoyed a run in the side in the 2012/13 season and finally made his Premier League debut in January 2015, but disaster struck as Long, who had come on as a first-half sub in a 3-3 draw away to Newcastle, suffered a season-ending injury and was himself replaced after just 20 minutes.

Having worked his way back from another serious injury, he got a place in Sean Dyche's team at the end of last season, that form leading to an international call-up and an unexpected start in defence in the home World Cup qualifier against Austria.

He's been forced to remain patient this term but answered the call from Dyche to play on Saturday and he says he now feels closer to the action, as he hopes for another runout tonight.

"This is the closest I've ever felt to the first team. Every year I've either been out on loan or not been involved but this is the closest I've been," Long told the Lancashire Telegraph.

"Hopefully I can kick on from here.

"It's strange that this is the closest I've been and it's the most successful the club has been, but it's good. I keep working hard every year to try and improve myself and when the squad improves I'm improving with it because I'm training with better players every year. That's only going to help me."

While Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark have established themselves as the first-choice central defenders under Martin O'Neill, a good run of form between now and the next competitive international, next September, could push Long to the top of the queue.

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