Shane Long: ‘I’m well used to getting battered’

There is no limp as Shane Long walks into the Complexe Sportif Montbauron.

The skin on his face, neck, arms and legs is seemingly unblemished by bruising and the last dregs of fatigue from 90 punishing minutes in Lille and the madness that surrounded it have all but drained from his system.

It’s amazing, frankly.

Three games in 10 days is no walk in the park and no player has been so buffeted and battered at these European Championships as the Southampton striker has against Sweden, Belgium and Italy.

“It’s part of the game,” Long shrugs. “I don’t mind getting kicked around the place and I give back my fair share. 

“Luckily I haven’t had an injury from any of the kicks. It’s just been bangs and I can take that.

“I’m the youngest of four kids so I’ve spent my whole life getting battered around.

“I’m well used to it.”

There has been frustration when perceived fouls haven’t been punished but, truth be told, he’s mostly glad of the hands-off approach from referees. His main complaint has been the yellow card he received against Italy for, well, nothing.

The workload isn’t anything new to someone who has plenty of experience doing the Saturday-Tuesday- Saturday circuit in the English Championship. Regular bouts of cryotherapy are being utilised to speed up the recovery process.

Keeping the mind fresh is another challenge.

It was early on Thursday morning by the time the team returned to their Trianon Palace Hotel from Lille and they were on the move again, to Lyon, yesterday evening after a light training session in Versailles.

Yet Long has mapped out a longer route than that.

He speaks authoritatively about who is likely to lie in wait in the last eight and semi-finals should Ireland upset the hosts today, all the while acknowledging the threat posed by a French side replete with talented individuals.

“I keep going back to the fact France are a very good side and they are not going to give us anything easy. They’ve got 11 match-winners in their team and a bench full of match-winners as well. You sleep for one minute and they’ll punish you.

“We have got to be like that for the 90 minutes. 

“The gaffer will pick the formation he thinks will do the best against them and the lads will go out and give it everything and hopefully it will be enough.”

It may be that they need some luck along the way — though they’ve done okay without it thus far — and there is no doubting but Martin O’Neill’s side will be clocking in for an intensive defensive shift today afternoon.

No stone can be left unturned and that means a regular diet of DVDs on Didier Deschamps’ men in the evenings and on the back of training sessions that have long been broadened to include penalty kicks.

But it can’t be just about hanging on and hoping for penalties. The 3-0 defeat to Belgium in Bordeaux seven days ago highlighted the issues with such a defensive mentality after all.

Long, so central to Ireland’s attacking threat in qualifying, has found scoring opportunities few and far between this month but the team in general has played some superb football against the Swedes and Italians.

“We’re not just nicking games, we are actually playing the games and creating chances and earning them. It was weird (against Italy). It was one of the hardest 90 minutes I’ve ever had to play the other night.

“It was also the most enjoyable 90 minutes I’ve had. We got on the ball and we played. To beat Italy is no mean feat, but to control the game like we did was amazing.”

It is a performance that haselectrified the country back home and one which has been elevated to the pantheon of great Irish days at major tournaments alongside Stuttgart, Genoa, New Jersey and Ibaraki.

The players soaked it up on Wednesday, celebrated with family and friends after the whistle, indulged in a beer or two and continued the party on the coach on the way back south to Versailles.

They get what this means, but they can’t dwell on it now.

“Now we have put it to one side. On the night, your phone is hopping — WhatsApp, family sending you videos of what’s going on outside the stadium. My nephew was on the train getting the chant going; little things like that.

“It is amazing to see the atmosphere around the place. We are back in Versailles then and it’s quiet out here.

“You can go out for a coffee and sit down and it’s just back to normality again and focusing on the France game.

“We would like to have the same memories after this game.”

Here’s a little extra sport. Watch the latest BallTalk for the best sports chat and analysis: The BallTalk team talk about Ireland’s chances of progressing to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.

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