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'He should be in it for sure... He's still playing Premier League'

Stephen Hunt believes Shane Long has been unfairly overlooked by Ireland.

Shane Long has been left out of recent Ireland squads by Mick McCarthy.
Shane Long has been left out of recent Ireland squads by Mick McCarthy.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

STEPHEN HUNT KNOWS Mick McCarthy better than most.

The former Ireland international worked under the current national team boss during stints at Wolves and Ipswich.

“His biggest strength is that he’s the boss and his biggest weakness is that he’s the boss,” Hunt tells The42. “You’ve got to get the balance right of having the communication of being the boss and not being overpowering, which he’s not. So his biggest strength is being the boss, and he is, and he’s respected. There’s no one complaining publicly that he hasn’t picked them.”

While enjoying a good relationship with McCarthy during his playing career, Hunt is not afraid to criticise some of the decisions made by his former coach.

Shane Long, who Hunt shared a dressing room with during their time together at Reading, has been left out of recent Ireland squads.

The 32-year-old striker has endured a disappointing start to the season. So far this campaign, he has made just four Premier League appearances, three of which have been from the bench.

The Tipperary native, who has 17 goals in 82 caps for his country, did make the provisional squad for the upcoming clashes with New Zealand and Denmark, but he was subsequently cut, and Hunt disagrees with the decision.

“He’s left Shane Long out. To be fair to Shane, he’s acted like a true professional. He hasn’t moaned about it, he’s just got on with it, but he should be in it for sure.

He’s been in out and out of Southampton’s first team, granted, but he’s still playing Premier League, which is only David McGoldrick and Aaron Connolly from a striker point of view [also] playing in that division. Shane would say if he was in the Championship, he’d be playing week in week out, so what’s the difference?

“It is what it is, and I think Mick will have the courtesy to be speaking to him I’d imagine, to keep him engaged. If he needs him, great, if he doesn’t, he doesn’t.

“I think the next move for Shane will be a permanent one if he’s released from Southampton — [he needs] to spend the next two or three years of his career before he retires playing regularly and scoring goals.”

Hunt is broadly content with the job McCarthy has done, though acknowledges recent results and displays have not been good enough.

“I think he came into it on a roll and the last few games have knocked the stuffing out of them to be fair. He won’t be happy with the performances. He’ll know they’ve had a couple of chances to kill it off, they haven’t taken it, but this one [against Denmark] will be a big one in terms of can they get over the line and can they qualify. If they qualify for the Euros, then Mick will have justified all his selections.

“Only four managers in the history have qualified. So he’ll be in good company, as he already is, if he gets a second [major tournament qualification].”

The former player is also optimistic with regards to the future of Irish football, with a number of exciting youngsters close to making a breakthrough at senior level.

I’d be a big fan of [Ireland U21 international] Jayson Molumby at Millwall, on loan from Brighton. I think we have players coming through that actually could make us stronger before the Euros if they continue to grow and develop and play games — I think he’ll come into the equation as well as a central midfielder.

“Hopefully Robbie Brady will come back into form. Jeff Hendrick is playing regularly now [more than] beforehand. So we’re not in a bad position. If you look at the talent, we’ve got three or four goalkeepers that look exceptional on paper. We’ve got three or four strikers that look exceptional on paper and centre halves, as we always have, playing regularly.

“So he’s in a good place if he keeps all of them fit and the players continue to develop, then he’ll be fine come the summer. But we’ve got to beat Denmark first.”

And finally, is Hunt confident Ireland can improve on recent form and beat the Danes?

“Yeah. I think David McGoldrick is a big player for us. He’s fit now. Players come alive when McGoldrick gets on the ball.

“I was singing his praises for the last 18 months and he was letting me down every time, but now he’s playing regularly [at club level] and with Ireland — everyone can see his talent. He’s an exceptional footballer, he’s trying to make the most of it and he’s certainly playing well this year, I’m delighted.”

Originally published 06.00

Stephen Hunt was speaking to publicise the arrival of Sports Extra on NOW TV.

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Paul Fennessy

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