At least Kevin Long hasn’t lost his sense of humour. He might not have played a minute of Premier League action for Burnley this season, but his timing with deadpan delivery remains sharp.
This January marks the 10th anniversary of his arrival at Turf Moor from Cork City, traditionally a time when a club would reward such a loyal servant with a testimonial. “I’d probably be on the bench for that game as well,” Long quipped.
The towering centre-back turned 29 in August but, through a combination of injury (the most serious of which was a cruciate knee ligament suffered on his Premier League debut in 2015) and falling out of favour, he has made just 159 senior club appearances between his time in the League of Ireland and Burnley, via loan spells with Accrington Stanley, Portsmouth and Rochdale.
“And probably 100 of them were by the time I was 22,” Long laughed.
Not quite, although he has managed only 83 games over the last seven years following on from the 76 which he had amassed previously.
This season, not even three months in, is already shaping up to be another to test his mental endurance as Burnley manager Sean Dyche sticks with his first-choice pairing of James Tarkowski and Ben Mee, while persisting with a policy of rotating the covering central defender between a place on the bench and in the stands.
“I don’t think it’s patience,” Long explains. “It is frustrating but it’s a business at the end of the day. I know how the game works, obviously if people don’t want to pay a certain price and other clubs are pricing their players out…
“The manager knows what he’s got with me, he knows I’m an honest player and I never sack training off. I always try my hardest in every training session and every game. For one reason or another it’s not happened but I’m happy, I would just like to get more games. It’s as simple as that.
“If I’m under contract it’s up to the club to not let me go and if the manager likes what he sees he’s going to keep me. If there are injuries or whatever, I know I’m going to play. There’s nothing more to it.”
Knocking on Dyche’s door and demanding a transfer is not on Long’s radar, even if they have had conversations stretching back 18 months about finding a new club.
“I don’t know if it’s that easy. It’s a business. You can’t just walk in and say: ‘I’m going to leave and that’s it’. I know they value me at Burnley,” Long says, stressing he would not contemplate becoming a bad influence around the training ground in order to force his way out.
“I don’t think there was ever a chance of me going on loan, I don’t think the gaffer would allow that. Obviously the last few windows I have spoken to him about it that if something came up that was right for me and right for the club we would probably look at it but for one reason or another it’s not happened.
“I know the manager likes me, he speaks to me all the time and stuff. The two lads are doing well, it’s obviously frustrating but from the gaffer’s point of view and a business point of view it’s not been the right time.”
Now is the time in terms of his importance to Mick McCarthy. Shane Duffy began running at his club on Sunday as he recovers from a calf injury. The Brighton man texted the Ireland manager to provide an update, and he might just be in with a chance of travelling to Georgia with the rest of the squad on Thursday, before the second leg of the double header with Switzerland a few days later.
Richard Keogh, of course, won’t play again for at least 15 months, meaning a defensive pairing of John Egan and Long might just be called upon.
“Always fit and ready to play,” the latter insisted. “I feel sharp. You can always tell when you come in, the standard levels go right up, everyone tries to makes an impression. You want the gaffer to think he can rely on you.
“He’s stuck by me and hopefully I can repay him for that. There are two massive games and if we do well I want to try and nail down that spot for myself, that’s what I’m aiming to do.”
That’s no joke.