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Wednesday 14 November 2018

Long way to go yet

Kevin still improving with Burnley

MOVING FORWARD: Kevin Long (left) insists he is still growing as a player and wants to impress Ireland boss Martin O’Neill. Photo: PA
MOVING FORWARD: Kevin Long (left) insists he is still growing as a player and wants to impress Ireland boss Martin O’Neill. Photo: PA

Ireland and Burnley defender Kevin Long says he has yet to hit his peak despite having a good season with club and country.

Long has clocked up 14 Premier League appearances, and his first league goal, in a season which has seen the Clarets almost guarantee themselves European football for next season.

He's also further up the pecking order at international level, as one of a handful of Irish defenders playing regularly in the Premier League.

And while the 27-year-old says he has improved this season, there's more to come.

"I still think I'm learning and progressing. I haven't played many games over the last few years so getting a run of games is going to help me but I still don't think I'm at my peak yet," Long told the Lancashire Telegraph.

Punished

"Just coming in and getting a run of games is what I needed. If you come in and play one or two it's hard work, especially in the Premier League because you get punished for your concentration levels.

"With a run of games your concentration improves and you get that confidence of where you're playing.

"I've been enjoying it. I've been here a long time now and to get a consecutive run of games in the Premier League is what I wanted," added Long.

He joined Burnley from Cork City in 2010 but it's taken years, and six loan spells, for him to establish himself with a high-flying Clarets outfit.

"I'm confident in my own ability, I just needed a run of games," he said.

"I knew if I got that run of games I'd be able to show everyone what I'm able to do.

"That's the case at the moment and hopefully the fans are appreciating what I'm doing because I'm giving everything for the team. Hopefully I can keep playing like that and keep on progressing."

Long made his competitive international debut last summer, as a surprise choice in defence for the qualifier at home to Austria and he's since added caps Wales and the most recent international, away to Turkey.

The Cork native has leapfrogged the likes of Richard Keogh and Alex Pearce in the pecking order with Ireland, though the emergence of Declan Rice has led to added competition.

However, exposure to Europa League football next season with his club next season will help - Long hoping to impress in the upcoming friendly games against France and the USA.

"To play for your country is a massive achievement and if I'm playing European football alongside that then it's what every lad dreams of," he said.

"Playing in the Premier League, playing European football and playing international football - it can't really get any better than that can it?"

Martin O'Neill will announce his squad next week for the series of games that includes Scott Brown's testimonial in Glasgow as well as the France and USA matches.

Absentee

Burnley boys Long, Stephen Ward, Jeff Hendrick and Jon Walters are set for inclusion, though long-term injury absentee Robbie Brady will not be back until next season.

Meanwhile, Burnley team-mate and compatriot Jimmy Dunne says he's still on a high after getting promoted from League Two while on loan to Accrington Stanley.

Dundalk lad Dunne joined Accrington in January and helped the modest club earn automatic promotion to League One.

"I have said it a million times, I never expected anything like this when I came on loan. I came for the development, for the learning and for the experience." he said.

"I never thought I would be winning and winning a league and an important league at that. It's so important to the club and it means everything.

"It's what dreams are made of. I couldn't be happier for the lads, the fans, the staff, the coaches, everyone connected with Accrington Stanley."

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