“It was a while coming,” laughed Shane Long, referring to the nine-year wait for his first goal at Turner’s Cross. More importantly, Long’s strike in West Brom’s 6-0 rout of a weakened Cork City on Tuesday night was, the player hopes, a sign of things to come for him, as well as his club and country.
“I knew the goals would come — I don’t need to waste all my goals in pre-season,” he said. “I never set a [goal] target ahead of the season. I just try and play every week, look at the next game and try and score in it, and then kick on and try and get a run going.
“I don’t mind how many goals I score. I think the manager appreciates that I do a good job for the team so I don’t put that pressure on myself.” Then he adds with a grin: “But at the same time I would like to get 40, so we’ll see what happens.”
Long was full of praise for West Brom’s stellar acquisition Nicolas Anelka, after the Frenchman lit up Turner’s Cross with a hat-trick. “He’s a gifted player,” said Long. “He gets on the ball and if you see him looking at you, all you do is make a run and he’ll find you.
“I’ve been lucky in my career to learn from some good strikers, like Kevin Doyle when I was at Cork and Reading and, in the Irish squad, Robbie Keane — and now Nico. So it’s benefiting my game a lot.”
On the international front, as Ireland prepare to travel to Wales next week in preparation for those World Cup qualifiers against Sweden and Austria in September, Long is still buzzing from the experience of scoring against England at Wembley.
“It was massive,” he said. “My last memory of going to Wembley was losing the play-off finals, so I wanted to show I could test myself against some of the best players in the world. And I think I proved that.
“To get a goal against England at Wembley is always a young Irish player’s dream.!”
Looking forward to those qualifiers, Long hesitates about designating the home game against Sweden a must-win.
“They’re both winnable games but they could go the other way. They’re massive for our chances of qualifying, we all know that, so hopefully we can all get good club starts to the Premier League and be full of confidence going into the games.”
Certainly, Steve Clarke’s joint assistant head coach, Keith Downing, was keen to stress Long’s importance to the Baggies’ upcoming campaign. “He’s a joy to play with in terms of work-rate and we’re hopeful he gets his full quota of goals this year.”
That being the aforementioned 40, then — with the season topped off by a trip to Brazil? “Yeah,” Long responded. “Getting to Brazil for a World Cup is something you dream of. Your career isn’t a very long one and I think this is a very good chance for us to get to the finals of a World Cup.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved