Kevin Doyle believes Shane Long can still be the main man up front for Ireland in their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.
Despite the Tipperary man not scoring for Ireland since an away game against Moldova in 2016, the player’s former Cork City and Reading team-mate maintains an in-form Long is “as good as any Ireland striker, ever” and hopes scoring his 50th Premier League goal against Liverpool for Southampton will be just the boost he needs to kick on for the rest of the season.
“I think that will be a big weight off his shoulders,” said former international Doyle. “Reaching a milestone like that, what an achievement, and that will have to give you confidence. If you’re a manager, you would always want him because he can change a game. He’s got pace. I know he’s getting a little older but if I was a manager I’d want him whether I started him or not. Hopefully between now and Denmark, Shane can get on a little run.
“He was in frightening form in the run-in to the (last) Euros and if Mick (McCarthy) can find that in him, if his new Southampton manager can find that in him, then he is as good as any Ireland striker, ever. He mightn’t have Robbie’s goal-scoring record but, putting it all together, you just hate to mark him. Shane is a very confidence-orientated player. If his confidence is on, he has as good a touch as anyone and he can score.
I would say he has to start for Ireland. I know his form, but he’s only 32 and is well able to get around the pitch and hopefully that goal will kickstart something for him between now and the end of the season. It’s hard to make a case for others at the moment because it’s not as if anyone else is getting shitloads of goals.
Regarding his own first club, Doyle — who was working for RTÉ at Shamrock Rovers’ 3-1 win in Turner’s Cross on Friday — reckons Cork City are now in a difficult period of transition.
“I think they’ve got a job catching Rovers and Dundalk for the next year or so,” he says.
“I think John Caulfield knows that himself, he’s been saying it in interviews. It looks like he has resigned himself to a year, 18 months of rebuilding. It’s amazing actually, because in the cup final — that’s only in November — they weren’t that far behind Dundalk on the day, they put it right up to them.
“It would be frustrating if you’re a Cork player because you’re so used to being in the top two and winning stuff. And there’s a lot of them still there but the other night it looked like it was only ever going to be one winner.
“And Rovers are as good as I’ve seen play. I saw Dundalk the week before and they were missing three players including Chris Shields, who’s probably the best midfielder I’ve seen in the league since I’ve been home.
"But the actual type of football from Rovers, from start to finish and all over the pitch, was really good. I saw them playing Waterford last season with a lot of the same players — and I know they’ve signed a few — but they just looked transformed.
“(In terms of) the perception of the League of Ireland, you would be happy to go watch them play every week. It’s a joy to watch them play football — exciting young players, taking people on, showing great touches and skill. All over the pitch, skill, confidence on the ball, playing out from the back but playing with a purpose. I don’t remember too many times when they were panicked into booting the ball.
“The more than happens, the more that happens with other teams, you will see more League of Ireland players (like Rovers’ Jack Byrne) not just called up but actually playing for Ireland. It’s hard to replicate the pressure and the intensity that you get in England from media and fans.
"We just have to develop it slowly and surely. Other leagues around Europe are small and they manage to integrate players into their senior set-up. If you got into an Ireland squad once or twice, and you were integrated into it slowly, exposed to it, not just thrown into the team straight away, that is the next step.
"And it might not be in the next year or two but I imagine once Stephen Kenny is in charge you might see a bit more of it.”