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Long wait now over

THERE have been many occasions at Lansdowne Road when the loudest discernible noise was the cracking of jaws released from a yawn of perpetual boredom by the final whistle.

This was not one of these nights. Claps on the back all around for some great entertainment.

Giovanni Trapattoni let the children play, so to speak, and Shane Long grabbed his chance with a bravura performance packed with skill, pace, courage and intelligence.

He was unplayable for most of the game and made mugs of some steely characters across the Uruguayan defence.

Long was an equal opportunity striker and caused every one of the Uruguay defenders moments of intense panic; up to and including Fernando Muslera, another goalkeeper with jittery hands.

He has been building up to this.

His last half dozen appearances for Ireland reflect the progress he has made at Reading this season and Long is now a genuine candidate for a start against Macedonia in June.

Longer term, he is the racing favourite to fill the big gap Robbie Keane will leave when he decides to step down.

Unless every manager in the Premier League is blind and foolish, he is also certain to be playing his football at the highest level next season and this will only help him develop further.

Steve Coppell believed that Long brought something different to the table as a striker and he put this down to the fact that he arrived in England a few years after most Irish kids would normally make the crossing and brought with him habits developed in Gaelic games which made him unpredictable.

Three years have passed since that assessment and, in the intervening period, Long has knocked the rough edges off his game, honed his considerable physical capabilities and makes runs which follow Coppell's theory.

He is very difficult to contain when he's as good as this.

UNFAMILIAR

That he should stitch the whole package together on the night when another youngster was supposed to be centre stage suggests a player high on self-belief. James McCarthy's full debut was an anti-climax but through no fault of his own.

Pitched into an unfamiliar role, he had a peripheral say in the course of the game and it is difficult to see what purpose was served by this.

He plays central midfield with a licence to push forward when he plays for Wigan and against Uruguay, Keith Fahey performed the former and Shane Long hogged the ball up front.

More importantly, with Long in such red hot form, the big punt was the tactic of choice once again and McCarthy could do no more than try to pick up scraps.

Fahey played very well and, in a quiet way, is becoming an important figure in this Irish squad.

At this stage, Trapattoni is more likely to trust him if he wants something other than a workhorse in the middle of the park so McCarthy must be patient.

With nothing at stake, Trapattoni definitely eased back on the reins a bit but the babble of talk about formations which preceded this game was very quickly made redundant.

Kevin Foley and Ciaran Clark both stayed in their own half for most of the game; Westwood, O'Dea and Kelly pumped it long more than not and McCarthy hovered in roughly the same area Robbie Keane hunts in.

But the attitude was very different. The ball was moved around the pitch by confident feet against a very good team and each time Ireland went a goal behind, they went about the recovery with great resolve and composure.

It should be remembered that Trapattoni made eight changes for this game and this was Uruguay, the seventh best team in the world, with players to match. The return on his gamble is considerable.

After this and the game against Macedonia, Trapattoni has learned that he now has a decent pool of defenders with two or three very promising young lads at the back of the queue jostling for position.

He has a third striker who now has six goals in 18 caps scored over four years. At the same point in Robbie Keane's international career, he had eight but had played 29 times for Ireland.

Trapattoni has been given plenty to mull over by Keith Fahey, who is now pushing to be Glen Whelan's partner in midfield. But Trap will probably take more pleasure out of Aiden McGeady's coming of age than anything else.

McGeady gave us a 15-minute cameo against Uruguay which was fantastic to watch. He is a confident young man and this combined with his prodigious talents, makes for a very dangerous footballer indeed. Trapattoni can take some of the credit for the progress McGeady has made but the lion's share goes to the player himself.

MOTIVATION

He took a risk when he went to Moscow. Some said he went for the money and even McGeady himself acknowledged that the financial package he was offered was remarkable. What ever the motivation, it has been a great move. Trapattoni deserves credit for giving young players room to improve.

He is dealing with an ever-widening pool of options and won't get many chances to send out a team of novices. This was a hugely valuable exercise which did much to erase lingering unease about the nature of Ireland's second-half performance against Macedonia. If they travel to Skopje in the same frame of mind, the result everyone wants is within reach.