by Gerry Bowe
Tipperary’s first international soccer player, Shane Long, son of Anne and the late Eamonn, Springfield, Gortnahoe celebrates his 21st birthday this Saturday in Reading. The occasion will be marked by a very special occasion in The Island Restaurant, Caversham Bridge, Reading with 330 guests including 180 from Ireland. The travelling group will include the local Irish Traditional Band, The Rebel Hearts, with 15 members, who will play at the function. Earlier that afternoon Reading will play Manchester United in a Premiership game at the Madejski Stadium and Shane hopes he will play a part in that game.
Shane Long played all sports as a youngster wearing his native Gortnahoe-Glengoole G.A.A. colours in both hurling and gaelic football and played youth soccer with St. Kevins schoolboy’s club in Two-Mile-Borris for five seasons. He was also proficient in athletics and represented Ireland at under age level and was also a keen basketball player. He graduated to the Tipperary minor hurling team and Babs Keating always maintained that he wished he had stayed with the caman game and predicted a bright future for him in hurling. He played in Croke Park in the All-Ireland minor hurling semi-finals of 2003 and 2004 and little did he realise then that one day he would wear the green shirt of Ireland in a full soccer international there, in front of 70,000 fans! Shane was always anxious to give the professional game a try and knew that he could always return to the hurling fields. His father, the Late Eamonn encouraged him to participate in all sports and his sudden death had a defining influence on Shane’s career.
After his days with St. Kevins, Shane moved on to St. Michaels F.C. Tipperary Town and then was transferred to Cork city on a sports scholarship in July 2004. Having made his debut with Cork’s first team and he impressed cross channel scouts., Reading coach, Eamon Dolan, brother of Pat, who was the manager that brought him to the southern capitol,was anxious to sign Long and Kevin Doyle, both were subsequently transferred. Shane Long signed as a Reading player in June 2005.
Long, Doyle and Stephen Hunt arrived together in Reading and the trio bonded very quickly and with his mother Ann moving with him, Shane had no home sickness and settled down quickly in their little Irish corner. The Reading manager, Steve Coppell recognised Shane’s ability as a striker. In Reading’s championship winning 2005-2006 campaign, Shane scored three goals in 10 substitute appearances making his first league start in April 2006 with a 3-1 home victory against Stoke City. He was a regular in Reading’s FA cup campaign and scored one goal. In his first season in the championship he had the honour of scoring a dramatic late equaliser at Derby to preserve the team’s long unbeaten run. He continued to impress and scored twice in the 5-0 home win that earned the championship in April. He scored his first Premiership goal v Sheffield United in January, 2007. In July 2007, Shane signed a four year contract with the club and is valid up to the end of the 2010-11 season.
Long’s good credentials with Reading earned him four Republic of Ireland U/19 caps. He was subsequently capped at U/21 level. Soon Steve Staunton called him up for full international duty and got his first senior cap in the Republic of Ireland’s 2-1 away win to San Marino in February 2007. In March that year, Shane came on as a substitute against Slovakia and entered his name in the history books by becoming the first ever player to play hurling and International soccer in the G.A.A. headquarters. Two months later he had the pleasure to score his first international goal in a friendly and 1-1 draw against Bolivia and kept up the goal scoring touch when scoring a brace against Denmark in August 2007. To date in the 2007/2008 season the Gortnahoe man has made 17 appearances for his club in the Premiership and is sure to add in the near future to his international caps.
Since moving to Reading, Shane Long has adapted well to the rigours and times of the Premiership. He attributes a lot of this to the guidance of his mother and believes that his late father is also keeping an eye on him. But he considers the advice and the manner that Steve Coppell treats and respects him as a major influence too.
Shane Long never forgets his roots and on visits to Ireland enjoys the banter with his neighbour and relatives in Gortnahoe and pays visits to St. Kevins in New Hill where he first learned his trade. An unassuming young man who has the football world virtually at his feet, Shane is wished every success in the future and both his native Gortnahoe-Glengoole parish and St. Kevins F.C. will watch his progress with interest.
His 21st birthday do on Saturday night attended by his friends from both sides of the Irish sea will be a rise to fame celebration of not only getting the key to the door but of a modest footballer who while he reaches the heights of glory in the English soccer merry- go round still has his heart in rural Ireland. He deserves to celebrate a roller coaster career so far. Happy Birthday Shane.