There were only a couple of selection decisions Martin O’Neill needed to be convinced of last night and Kevin Long did well enough against Uruguay to show he’s capable of stepping up to the challenge of a World Cup qualifier on Sunday.

Central-defence is an area the Ireland manager prefers stability yet his hand has been forced during the two campaigns he’s been involved in - mainly down to circumstances.

Sean St Ledger, a favourite of predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni, began his injury nightmare on O’Neill’s first away trip in November 2013 to Poland and Marc Wilson, who replaced him as a mainstay, fell out of favour at Stoke City in the latter stages of the journey to last year’s Euro finals.

As France loomed, that left a battle between John O’Shea, Richard Keogh and Ciaran Clark for the two berths, with Shane Duffy a late bolter to challenge. 

Twelve months on from that jaunt to the last-16, the Brighton man can be the only one assured a starting slot at the back.

In the case of Burnley defender Long, the Ireland manager and Roy Keane might have stumbled upon a solution to the other vacancy they hardly could have anticipated when the qualifiers kicked off in Belgrade last September.

Clark, like Duffy, is enjoying the high of promotion to the Premier League but isn’t available for the visit for Austria due to the same knee injury that kept him out of the last competitive fare against Wales.

And so the audition which began for Long in New Jersey in the early hours of Friday morning continued for the meeting with a Uruguayan side billed as the toughest of warm-ups for the sixth of their 10 qualifiers in six days’ time.

Although it transpired they lacked the inventiveness of their South-American neighbours Mexico, this would be a test for a player only earning his second cap.

That the Corkman’s international experience arrives in such a blitz is ironic given the wait he’s endured to wear the green jersey at any level. Long was part of Noel King’s U21 squad for four different gatherings without getting a minute on the pitch. 

He even cancelled a holiday to Ibiza five years ago for a qualifier against Italy he watched from the bench at the Sligo Showgrounds.

Long had moved from Cork City to Burnley over the course of those four inactive tours of duty and managerial upheaval at the Clarets didn’t help.

After Owen Coyle, the man who paid €120,000 for him, left for Bolton Wanderers, Brian Laws came in and froze him out. 

Eddie Howe, the next arrival at the helm, also favoured loan spells for the Irishman and it took until Sean Dyche trusted him for a sense of belonging to prevail. 

Once his serious injuries were ended this season, Long got his chance and played the final three Premier League games of the campaign.

Keane attended the last of them against West Ham United and pressed the claims of his fellow Leesider to O’Neill, who slotted him into a three-man rearguard against the Mexicans. 

That experiment ditched, Long looked far more comfortable in an orthodox role last night, letting Edinson Cavani know about his presence with just three minutes played.

The gesticulating by the PSG frontman spoke volumes about how much he disliked the robustness of the newcomer’s aerial challenge but there would be no quarter given either when Middlebrough striker Cristhian Stuani replaced him eight minutes later.

Keogh’s error-strewn display in America did him more harm than good for the Austrian clash ahead and, while John O’Shea could be considered favourite to fill in alongside Duffy, a solid 90 minutes from Long on his home debut provides O’Neill with plenty to ponder in the days ahead.



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