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Dublin: 7°C Wednesday 28 October 2020

Patience pays off for Ireland's Kevin Long with impressive display against Liverpool

The 29-year-old centre-back helped to end the Premier League champions’ run of 24 consecutive home wins.

liverpool-v-burnley-premier-league-anfield Sadio Mane of Liverpool under pressure from Burnley's Kevin Long. Source: Phil Noble/NMC Pool/PA Wire

OPPORTUNITIES HAVE BEEN scarce for Kevin Long at Burnley, but the Republic of Ireland international outlined his importance to the club again on Saturday.

The 29-year-old centre-back delivered an impressive display over 90 minutes as the Clarets ended Liverpool’s run of 24 consecutive home wins.

The 1-1 draw with the Premier League champions marked Long’s third consecutive start. It was also his 70th appearance in total for a club he joined from Cork City in 2010.

With captain Ben Mee sidelined due to injury, Long has been drafted into the side as they aim to keep their hopes of qualification for the Europa League alive.

His start against Sheffield United last week was his first in the Premier League since December 2018, so the Corkman had to remain patient before helping his club extend their unbeaten run to five matches.

“It’s hard coming in and trying to step up and perform well,” he said. “But the lads have been really helpful with a good shape all-round and it’s easier to come into the team when we’re well drilled and we know what’s happening.

“That’s all I can do: come in and try and perform well and work as hard as I can. It’s all about working hard on the training pitch. All you can do is keep fit and if your chance does come you have to make sure you’re ready and that’s all I try and do.”

soccer-pre-season-friendly-burnley-v-sunderland-turf-moor Long tangling with Sunderland's Steed Malbranque while playing for Burnley in 2011. Source: Barrington Coombs

Long, Burnley’s longest-serving current player, saw his early years at Turf Moor hindered by injuries. He also spent considerable time away from the club, gaining senior experience while on loan at Accrington Stanley, Rochdale, Portsmouth, Barnsley and MK Dons.

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Despite the scarcity of first-team openings at Burnley, he has remained a valued member of the squad. In October 2018, he was rewarded with a new three-year contract. Long has also won 13 senior caps for Ireland since his debut in June 2017. He scored his first international goal in the 3-1 win against Bulgaria last September.

When asked about Long last week, Burnley manager Sean Dyche said: “It has been difficult for him to break through and play more regularly, but if you look down the years, he does get a clutch of games every season and he has often delivered. He’s respected and he knows that.

“I can assure you Kevin Long often pops in and has a word with me, ‘look gaffer, I’m working, I want to play’ – he’s not accepting of it, but he’s professional enough to know he has to be ready and right.

“We talk to all the players about it, all the time: when your chance comes, be ready to deliver. It’s no good questioning it, and your chance comes and you’re not ready to deliver because you don’t stay in the team.”

Tenth-placed Burnley play the first of their three remaining Premier League games for this season tomorrow evening when they entertain Wolverhampton Wanderers.

republic-of-ireland-v-bulgaria-international-friendly Celebrating with John Egan after scoring for Ireland against Bulgaria. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

“It was a great performance from the lads,” Long said of the draw with Liverpool. “Popey [Nick Pope] made a few great saves and showed the quality he has as a keeper, but I think from back to front everybody defended brilliantly and we got a good point.

“They have been deserved champions. They have played unbelievable football all season and when you see the quality they have, the pace up front and they are a threat pretty much all over the pitch. To get a point is brilliant.”

He added: “We want to get maximum points from the three games remaining and the lads are going to try and do that. It’s a quick turn-around all the time so we just need to make sure everyone is fit and ready and just go again.”

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Paul Dollery

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