Forget irrelevant Robbie Keane – it’s now the Shane Long show

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The former Tottenham Hotspur forward has been ousted as Ireland's star striker heading into the European Championship in France


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There is a steely defiance to Robbie Keane that has long been a distinguishing trait in his character. It was there when he barely flinched at the notion of joining Marcello Lippi’s Inter Milan from Coventry City nearly 16 years ago. It was there in Japan when he somehow managed to elude the Germany defence before agonisingly squeezing the ball past the imperious Oliver Kahn in the last minute at the 2002 World Cup.

And it is still there now, as he clings on to his place in the Republic of Ireland squad heading into Euro 2016 toting the captaincy. However, time is running out for the 35-year-old striker as he struggles to assert his relevance in a team that is witnessing a changing of the guard.

Keane’s powers as a footballer have naturally deteriorated with the unsympathetic passing of Time, but, more pertinently, it is the emergence of Shane Long, that has served to hasten the striker’s swift transferral to the periphery of Martin O’Neill’s squad.

While Keane has spent his preparation time ahead of the tournament recovering from surgery and battling a niggling calf injury, Long has arrived in France on the back of his best ever season in the Premier League. The 29-year-old helped Southampton secure Europa League football and weighed in with 13 goals in all competitions. His time to shine is now.

Holding the record for both number of caps and goals scored means that Keane’s status as one of Ireland’s greatest players is secure, but his importance to the team is no longer a given.

It is true that, with 67 goals for the Boys in Green, no Irish player, past or present, comes remotely close to matching him and he still regularly hits over 20 goals a season in Major League Soccer for Los Angeles Galaxy, where he is affectionately known as ‘The King’.

However, his contribution in Ireland’s journey to France was negligible. A haul of five goals in nine qualifiers might be considered more laudable had all five not come in two games against lowly Gibraltar and when it came to crunch games at the latter stage of qualification, including both play-off legs, O’Neill looked elsewhere.


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He has not kicked a ball for Ireland since October 2015, when he came on as a substitute for Long in an uninspiring 2-1 defeat to Poland.

The Ireland manager acknowledged the Keane paradox back in March when he said that, while Keane is past his peak, he is still the captain of the team, the best goalscorer and very much in his thoughts for Euro 2016. But the King of Los Angeles is now no more than a figurehead for Ireland.

During the second half of the qualifying campaign, as Keane drifted down the pecking order onto the unfamiliar confines of the bench, Long gradually ascended to the throne and has continued on an upward trajectory since.

A thunderous and ultimately decisive goal against world champions Germany last October at the Aviva Stadium is seen by many, including O’Neill, as being the catalyst for Long’s impressive improvement in form.

"Naturally if you want to trace it back, I think the goal against Germany in October was a massive boost,” the Ireland boss said in May. "It is something special when you score the winning goal against the world champions, you would walk back to the club on a natural high."

He subsequently went on to score for Southampton in big games against Manchester City and Chelsea, while, on the international stage, he added to his tally with strikes against Slovakia and the Netherlands.

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As Ireland trailed 2-0 to Belarus at Turner’s Cross in their final tournament warm-up friendly, O’Neill sent Long into the breach and his impact was instantaneous as he provided the assist for Stephen Ward’s consolation goal. 

The former Cork City youth is playing with a joyful freedom that accompanies burgeoning confidence and Ireland need to harness that at Euro 2016.

Forget captain Keane, it’s the Shane Long show from here on in.

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