In keeping with his surname, it might have taken Kevin Long a fair old length of time to finally get his first senior Irish call-up but it took him only 20 minutes to reach last week’s squad training base at Fota Island from his family home in Ballyphehane.
And it wasn’t too far either from Turner’s Cross where he began making waves as a promising young defender before leaving to join Burnley in 2009. In another sense, however, his Cork City experience was a world away. Long having broken through into the first team in the dark days - very different from now - when financial turmoil ruled and the club’s very existence was in jeopardy.
“That was a strange situation,” he recalls. “Everything happened so fast for me at the time. I just broke into the Cork City team and within a few months I was over in England and had signed for a Premier League club.
“Playing for Cork City - it was my local club, I’d grown up watching them - was brilliant. But, yeah, they were strange times at Cork. I was a young lad coming through so everything that was happening in or around the club was going over my head. The senior players there, they would have had wives and kids and stuff, so they would have taken more notice of it.”
He does, though, recall the dressing room black humour aimed at his direction, at a time when it seemed a transfer fee for the highly rated youngster might be the only hope of ensuring City would stay afloat.
“I do remember that,” he says. “I think Stevie O’Donnell was screaming at me in the showers, would I ever leave? (laughs). And Dan Murray always says that everyone who plays next to him always gets a move apart from him! But I had great times there, great memories.”
After his move to Turf Moor, injuries and loans spells stretched his wait for Premier League and senior international recognition to seven years before everything suddenly accelerated in the last few weeks.
“When I first came to England seven years ago, I was only after playing 15 games for Cork City so everything was relatively new to me,” he reflects. “Training full time for the first time, I had to go out on loan for the first three years to get used to things and settle in.”
But, all of sudden, things changed dramatically in the last few weeks.
“It has been a little bit of a shock,” the 26-year-old admits. “I haven’t been playing a lot of games of late so to finish off the season by getting a few games in the Premier League and getting a call up for your country, it’s massive. I’m delighted and so are my family and friends. It’s brilliant. But I felt ready. I felt I’ve kept in good shape all season. I’ve been training hard and waiting for opportunities but the two lads ahead of me at Burnley have been doing well so I’ve just had to be patient.
“I’m not gonna lie, it’s extremely frustrating if you’re not playing. Every footballer wants to play but if you’re not, you have to keep ready in case that chance comes and thankfully it did.”
Adding to his sense of a home from home at Burnley is the strong Irish contingent in the first team, with Long now the latest international to follow in the footsteps of Stephen Ward, Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady.
“They’re great lads, all the Irish boys,” he smiles. “They’ve made a great impact on the pitch but also in the dressing room and when I got the call up they were the first to congratulate me.”
It has been widely reported that Kevin is missing his brother Daniel’s wedding in order to be with the Irish squad which flies out to the US today ahead of Thursday’s friendly in New Jersey against Mexico. But Long insists that it was never an issue.
“I didn’t need to (smooth things out),” he says. “He was happy that I got called up for my country. He’s got an amateur cap as a striker with Avondale and he’s always held that against me so if I get a cap for the proper team I think I can shove that on him! The wedding is in Killarney but I don’t mind missing it and I don’t think he’ll mind either.”
And, after all this time, what would it mean to Kevin Long to make his Irish debut?
“It would be brilliant,” he smiles. “Every player wants to play for his country. If I get that opportunity I would be delighted.”
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