Chances running out for Long?

Martin O’Neill and his men had long since dispersed from the Aviva Stadium on Sunday evening by the time Robbie Keane began his day’s work with LA Galaxy, who were hosting Philadelphia Union at the StubHub Center.

Chances running out for Long?

By the time the evening was over, the Ireland captain had claimed Galaxy’s last goal in a 4-1 rout. It may have been the MLS, it may have been a tap-in against a side losing its fifth of six matches, but it showed again how important Keane remains to his country.

Earlier, O’Neill had voiced his incredulity at how Ireland had conspired to lose their latest friendly, against Turkey, despite creating a volume of chances rarely realised at the normally constrained tier that is international football.

All told, it made for another frustrating evening for Shane Long, the man considered by many observers as most likely to inherit Keane’s cloak as poacher-in-chief when the older man’s career final runs its course.

The Hull City striker has scored twice in O’Neill’s opening four games against Latvia and Serbia. Not a bad strike rate but it is one that disguises a succession of spurned opportunities in the last two outings against the Turks and Serbs.

Both games resulted in 2-1 defeats and O’Neill would be sitting pretty with an undefeated record as boss now – having beaten Latvia and drawn with Poland in his two openers – had Keane been on duty throughout.

Long earned himself a glorious chance just six minutes into the latest fixture in D4, muscling past Omer Toprack to engineer a one-on-one with the keeper before tumbling as the defender initiated contact on the edge of the area.

Roy Keane made his indignation known to the French referee at half-time and Long cut a similar cloth afterwards, claiming even the Turkish defenders were embarrassed by the official’s refusal to point to the spot.

“Obviously you’re disappointed,” said Long of his missed opportunities. “I know I done everything right, I took a touch past the defender and the keeper made a good save. It’s not something I dwell on.”

Long wasn’t the only Irishman to rue what might have been in front of goal two evenings ago but his job description inevitably sees him absorb more of the pressure in that regard in a country where prolific goalscorers have never been present in abundance.

“Yeah, I’m to blame for missing a few of those chances,” he admitted. “I really enjoy playing with Wes [Hoolahan] up front, he’s a great player and he’s always looking for that pass, it suits me down to the ground.

“You can see there is a lot of options for the gaffer with Daryl and Jon coming on, scoring a great goal, Robbie’s not here and then there’s Kevin Doyle coming back. There are a few options for the manager.”

O’Neill has clearly taken a liking to Hoolahan, starting the Norwich City player in the hole behind the striker for all three home games so far. It’s a trend that suggests there may only be room enough for one out-and-out striker.

Long will undoubtedly have other chances to stake his case in the short term given he has signed up for the duration of this end-of-season tour through Dublin, London, Philadelphia and New Jersey after an up and down club season.

A January switch from West Bromwich Albion to Hull City saw him claim four goals in 15 games for his new side while his appearance for the Baggies against Chelsea in the FA Cup third round left him ineligible for the Tigers’ march on Wembley.

Still, as his clubmate and countryman Stephen Quinn explained recently, survival in the Premier League was always the priority and with that secured Long is eager about the prospect of returning there after the summer.

“I’m looking forward to getting back there,” said the 27-year-old from Tipperary. “There was a feeling I was finishing off the last season so I’m looking forward to getting a full season in a Hull City shirt.”

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