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'It's what dreams are made of' - Long still pinching himself after making competitive debut for Ireland

The Burnley defender was a surprise choice at centre-half in last night’s 1-1 draw with Austria.

Long with Austrian striker Guido Burgstaller.
Long with Austrian striker Guido Burgstaller.
Image: Niall Carson

EVEN BEFORE LAST night, this past month has been a bit of a whirlwind for Kevin Long.

The Burnley centre-half was handed his first Premier League start in May and went to play the final three games of the season for the Clarets.

That prompted Martin O’Neill to take the advice of assistant Roy Keane, who had been to watch Long in action, by calling him up for the three-day end-of-season training camp at Fota Island.

The Ireland boss was clearly impressed by what he saw and, along with fellow Corkman Alan Browne, 26-year-old Long was brought along on the trip to New Jersey to gain some experience around the squad.

He came on as second-half substitute to earn his first senior international cap in the defeat to Mexico at MetLife Stadium, and three days later was named to start against Uruguay in Dublin — performing well over the 90 minutes.

With Ciaran Clark sidelined through injury, Richard Keogh looked odds-on to play alongside Shane Duffy for the visit of Austria to Lansdowne Road last night.

However, when the teamsheet was released before kick-off, it was Long’s name in the starting XI.

“The manager just came in and named the team,” the centre-half said after the 1-1 draw.

“That’s when I found out. I was delighted that he showed faith in me for such a big fixture. I was confident and was just buzzing to get going.

We never really started at all and we were pretty sloppy in the first half. The manager had a few words at half-time, and we were a much better team in the second half. We probably deserved to get three points.”

 

After his relatively assured performance, Long will now enjoy a break before returning to Burnley for pre-season training — where he is intent on building on the recent progress by playing regularly under Sean Dyche.

With Michael Keane likely to make a big-money move away from Turf Moor over the summer, it could provide an opening and, after putting his bad run of injuries to one side, the former Cork City defender will be aiming to make up for lost time.

At international level, there is plenty of competition for places at centre-half but Long has become a viable option ahead of the double-header with Georgia and Serbia in September.

“It’s an honour to represent my country and it has been a brilliant few weeks for me,” he added. “To make my debut out in New York, then start my first game last week and play a competitive fixture tonight — it’s what dreams are made of.

“These are the games you want to be involved in. The atmosphere was brilliant.”

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Ben Blake

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