Long Looks for Starting Spot
Shane Long is determined to win a four-way battle for the right to partner Republic of Ireland skipper Robbie Keane at Euro 2012.
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West Brom striker Long, club-mate Simon Cox, Wolves counterpart Kevin Doyle and Stoke's Jon Walters are the men fighting to catch manager Giovanni Trapattoni's eye ahead of the opening game of the tournament against Croatia in Poznan on June 10.
One of them will line up alongside Keane, one of several players spotted taking a supervised dip in the Irish sea after training on Thursday morning, in the strike partnership Trapattoni hopes will get Ireland of to a winning start in Group C, with all having performed admirably when called upon in the past.
Long spent long periods of the last Barclays Premier League campaign as a frustrated bystander as he attempted to manage a debilitating back injury, but is now raring to go and confident he can do a job for his country.
He said: "There are five us now fighting for that position. I think Robbie is very secure in his place, and deservedly so, and there are four of us fighting for the other position.
"I'd like to think I am in the frame, in the manager's mind, and I have to try to convince him over the few friendlies before we get to the Euros that I am good enough to play alongside him."
The competition between the four men is intense, although Long insists that whoever gets the nod will have the full backing of those who miss out.
He said: "We are all fairly close. Myself and Kevin are close off the pitch and we don't really talk about it.
"Whoever plays is going to get the full support of the other three, and that's the way it should be.
"He [Trapattoni] is obviously a very experienced manager and he is not afraid to change it up when he needs to.
"I think he has confidence in each one of the five strikers that play."
Long sat out a training session earlier this week ahead of Saturday's friendly against Bosnia with Trapattoni acutely aware of his needs, and the striker is grateful for his manager's understanding.
The 25-year-old said: "The last month is the first time since October I have been pain-free playing football, and it's good timing coming into the Euros that I'm back to the top of my game and hopefully putting a problem in the manager's head.
"It's a hairline fracture in one of the bones in my back. It sounds a lot worse than it is, but it's just a case of doing exercises and managing it properly."
Long was a schoolboy when Ireland last qualified for a major tournament, the 2002 World Cup finals, but what he has heard from Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Keane, who were there, has simply whetted his appetite further.
He said: "You hear the likes of Robbie and Shay and Dunney talk about Korea and how good it was, and how determined they were to get to these finals.
"They said it was one of the best experiences of their lives, so we are expecting a lot."