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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 7 April, 2020

'Shane has made himself an important part of this squad' - O'Neill lauds 'confident' Long

The Ireland manager also spoke about giving away poor goals and the performance of Eunan O’Kane in his post-match press conference.

Long was on target this evening.
Long was on target this evening.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

MARTIN O’NEILL EXPRESSED an overall feeling of satisfaction after tonight’s 2-2 draw with Slovakia and said there are a number of positives to take away from the game.

Ireland came from a goal behind to take a 2-1 lead through penalties from Shane Long and James McClean before conceding on the stroke of half-time.

“I thought the first half was very good,” O’Neill said in his post-match press conference.

“The second half was naturally disrupted with a lot of substitutions and momentum got lost from both teams really.

“But the first half I thought besides the goals – poor goals that we conceded from our viewpoint, anyway – there were a lot of positives. We played some really attractive football.

“The idea with the side that we had was to try to get the two full-backs in advanced positions, which I felt we could do, and they contributed well to a really decent first half.

“Again, we made a few changes and I never thought either of the teams got the momentum back again.”

Martin O'Neill O'Neill. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

With Shane Long his only fit striker going into the game, O’Neill chose to play fellow Derryman James McClean up front and added that he was pleased with how the winger did.

“I thought James McClean alongside Shane Long started very, very strongly,” he said.

“Most of us lost a little bit of momentum in the second half, but I thought Shane and James caused them problems, and I thought we looked sharp.

“When you have the two of them playing there and Wes in behind, then it does mean that whatever you are going to do, you might have that extra body in midfield to get a bit of extra possession – which we are looking for.

“But it did mean that the onus was on the two full-backs, and I thought they tried to get forward and I thought they did it successfully.”

Long earned both penalties (the first of which was contentious) with his runs into the box and fired home the first for his 15th senior international goal before coming off at half-time.

Although the Southampton man was often used for the bench in the most recent qualifying campaign, he has put himself in line to be first choice at Euro 2016.

Shane is now playing with a lot more confidence that he is getting more games and starting more matches at Southampton,” said O’Neill. “It’s always a big boost for him.

“But his boost would have come from that great goal against Germany. While you have to eventually put that into the background, it’s still big news for him, so he is playing with a great deal of confidence.

“The first penalty – I haven’t seen it back, but they tell me it might have been a wee bit harsh.

“I thought that at the time. The second was a definite penalty, but apparently their lad has fisted the ball into the net for their equaliser, so maybe it levels things up a bit.

“But Shane has done very well and he has made himself an important part of this squad.”

Eunan O'Kane and Dusan Svento Eunan O'Kane and Dusan Svento of Slovakia. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

On Eunan O’Kane’s performance in midfield and the likelihood of him going to France, he added: “He came in, played with a lot of confidence and I think he should be pretty pleased with himself. His contribution in the game was very good.

“He tried to get into it. I didn’t really want him to play wide, but if he had too go wide and receive the ball, then fine and he dealt with it pretty well, so that’s all good news for him.

“As regarding the squad, why shouldn’t he be in my thoughts anyway? The feeling was that one or two of the lads if they didn’t make the 23 here, they are absolutely bang in line for the World Cup qualification games.

But one at a time. Obviously the Euros is the major issue for us now.”

Ireland don’t play again until 27 May when they face the Netherlands at the Aviva Stadium. O’Neill is due to name his final squad a day later but he admits that it is starting to take shape in his mind.

“I have to get pretty close to it now, yes,” he replied. “Players have got matches now to negotiate at club level and I understand, particularly if people are fighting for something that it’s all thoughts on club football.

“But I would have a fair idea about the squad at the moment.”

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Hoolahan, Christie and O’Kane shine and other thoughts from Ireland’s draw with Slovakia

Long and McClean strike from the spot as Ireland put in positive performance against Slovakia

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Ben Blake

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