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Shane Long

Euro 2016 Team Guide: Experience the key to Republic hopes

17:33 GMT+3 02/06/2016
Republic of Ireland - Cropped
Martin O'Neill's team will head this summer's major tournament with a core of well-established players, hoping to better their last effort from four years ago, which ended poorly

Coach: Martin O'Neill

Key player: Shane Long

Qualifying form: W5, L2, D3

Top scorers in qualifying: Robbie Keane, Jon Walters (both 5), Shane Long (3)

Ireland will complete back-to-back European Championship appearances for the first time at Euro 2016, although they had to work hard to secure their place. 

They drew with both Poland and Scotland and took four points off world champions Germany to earn a third-place finish in Group D, before coming through the play-offs against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Playing as a thick fog descended at Zenica's Stadion Bilino Polje, Robbie Brady scored a vital away goal and, despite Edin Dzeko's first-leg equaliser, a Jon Walters double past former Stoke City team-mate Asmir Begovic in Dublin secured a 3-1 aggregate triumph and a spot in the finals.

Now they are there, bettering their showing last time around is the immediate priority, although that is not a particularly tall order, as Ireland lost three from three in a tough group against Croatia and eventual finalists Spain and Italy in 2012 - conceding nine goals in the process.

The subsequent unsuccessful attempt to reach the 2014 World Cup heralded the end of Giovanni Trapattoni's tenure as coach.

An experienced core of players remains under Martin O'Neill, with 40-year-old Shay Given having returned from international retirement to play a key role during qualification.

The form of Stoke number one Jack Butland, along with injury problems, has restricted Given at club level and uncertainty remains over Ireland's starting goalkeeper, with West Ham's Darren Randolph and Sheffield Wednesday's Kieren Westwood the other options after Newcastle's Rob Elliot ruptured knee ligaments during March's friendly versus Slovakia.

John O'Shea brings invaluable expertise at centre-back - the former Manchester United man having marked his 100th cap with a third international goal to snatch a 1-1 draw in the qualifier against Germany in Gelsenkirchen.

Everton full-back Seamus Coleman will hope to put a mixed season at club level behind him by shining on the major stage, while Goodison Park team-mate James McCarthy should provide a strong midfield base alongside another long-established fixture in Stoke's Glenn Whelan.

Creative midfielders Aiden McGeady and Wes Hoolahan might have their last chance to influence a major tournament, while the twin themes of vast experience and a Stoke City presence continue in attack.

Ireland's record goalscorer Robbie Keane, now plying his trade successfully in MLS with Los Angeles Galaxy, and Walters led the way in qualifying, although Southampton's Shane Long could prove to be the match-winning presence O'Neill requires.

Long netted a stoppage-time equaliser at home to Poland before memorably firing home the only goal in a 1-0 return triumph against Germany to have a decisive say in Ireland's journey to France.

Extending that progress beyond the group stage would represent success, as the Republic are paired once again with the ever-strong Italy and a much-fancied, richly gifted Belgium side in Group E.

O'Shea and company will also be charged with thwarting Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sweden in what could prove to be the departing PSG star's final outing in Paris.