Long haul is paying off as Cork City graduate nails down his Premier League place with Burnley

Long haul is paying off as Cork City graduate nails down his Premier League place with Burnley
Burnley's Kevin Long and Manchester United's Marcus Rashford battle for the ball. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. 

A goal in the Premier League. 

Imagine offering that chance to any of the boys kicking a ball outside their house during the summer across Ireland. 

We can sometimes get lost in the idea of success and failure. For example, Theo Walcott played almost 400 games for an elite team, scored in FA Cup finals and European Championships and more Champions League goals than Zidane and got labelled a failure. So it’s important to recognise the moments that won’t be forgotten. 

Burnley’s second goal against Leicester a few weeks ago, a standard header from an inswinging corner, will hardly make the end-of-season reels but it was significant for one person, putting another marker down in a year of arrival at the top level for Kevin Long after the longest journey. 

Long may work day-to-day in the trade of stopping goals but there’s still something about scoring, about having that memory of the ball hitting the net, the explosion of joy, the mention on Match of the Day that night, that makes it a special part of being a footballer in the biggest show in the world in these parts.

Kevin Long with Shamrock Rovers fans after a friendly. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Kevin Long with Shamrock Rovers fans after a friendly. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

It hasn’t been a straight-forward trip either. 

Go back basically to this time of the season in any of the eight years since Long left Cork City and this hasn’t always looked the likeliest outcome. 

April 2011, on loan with Acrrington Stanley in league two, Long came on as sub away at Macclesfield. 

April 2012, on loan with Rochdale in league one, losing away to Yeovil and Chesterfield. 

April 2013, with Burnley in the championship away at Leeds and Blackpool. 

April 2014, not in the team with Burnley as they chased promotion. 

April 2015, recovering from a cruciate injury he’d sustained 20 minutes into making his Premier league debut up in Newcastle that January. 

April 2016, on loan with MK Dons for a couple of games at the end of the year after a loan spell with Barnsley earlier in the season in league one. 

April 2017, no appearances in the Premier League all season as Ben Mee and Michael Keane played more or less every game up until May. 

See what resilience has been necessary to go about making himself a Premier League player. 

Learning the trade in the lower levels just to get game time and improve and gradually, slowly, move up the leagues. 

Coming back from a cruciate injury twenty minutes into the biggest game of your life and seriously, just think of the mental strain and doubt to be overcome when the moment you’ve been building towards since the age of eight or nine is snatched away so cruelly. 

And then, taking the chance when it comes from an injury to Ben Mee which opens up three Premier league games right at the end of last season which opens up an international call and debut and again this year when suspension and injuries have given him a clean run of games to grasp. 

Long is a strong athletic traditional style centre-half but he’s battled strikers across the four leagues, come through bad injuries, impressed several managers (including Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane last May to be thrown into the Austria game from nowhere) and kept going with the same spirit and enthusiasm and belief he’d finally get there.

This isn’t an easy job by the way, central defender in the Premier league. 

Last weekend poor Declan Rice from West Ham got hung out to dry by his manager and on TV for an error that gave away a goal away at Arsenal (overlooking the organisation that Rice had shown ten seconds earlier to get his defence set up). 

A couple of games back Shane Duffy gave away an important goal with a sloppy backpass, a mistake that was highlighted on every single highlights show that weekend. 

Every time there’s a big league game or European night now there are several variations on the argument that teams and players can’t defend anymore – witness Roma just this week, or Man City, or almost any team that’s been put under pressure by a strong attack recently. 

Yet Sean Dyche has a knack for developing defenders and defences as a unit, for drilling deep into the details of a centre-back, emphasising positions to take to block shots at goal more effectively and it’s hardly a coincidence that Burnley don’t tend to concede in large numbers. 

Chelsea's Olivier Giroud and Burnley's Kevin Long. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire. 
Chelsea's Olivier Giroud and Burnley's Kevin Long. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire. 

There are massive tests more or less every single week. Long has come up directly against Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero, Romelu Lukaku, Jamie Vardy, Alvaro Morata in the last few months and if some have been more testing than others then the Corkman has come through the other side a better defender surely for the experience (Kane nabbed a hat-trick at Burnley in December and still the manager referenced how well Long recovered to defend for his life in the game at Old Trafford a few days afterwards). 

In that Man Utd game he was part of a backs to the wall performance where he made 14 clearances and three blocks. 

In that Leicester game recently he got his toe to a cross right at the end to prevent a Leicester equaliser. 

He was immense away at Watford and Stoke in the past month and has looked more comfortable taking ball out of defence as well. 

Of course, the own goal against Chelsea the game after scoring against Leicester was a not-so-gentle reminder that defending in the Premier League has its swings and roundabouts. 

But he’s adapted. Long has unlucky with red cards early in his career, his first game with Accrington Stanley he was sent off and again on loan with Portsmouth; in seventeen Premier league games this year and last he’s only picked up one yellow card against some of the best attackers in the world.

There’s an interview with Kevin Long during one of his loan spells with Accrington Stanley early in his time in England where the only thing that comes across really is a willingness and a want to play football wherever necessary, to do whatever it takes to make this work in the simplest of ways. 

His family spoke in a feature for the42.ie last summer of the no-fuss personality behind the scenes that’s gotten on with things, that’s turned what could have become a hard-luck tale at several stages into a far more feelgood story in the end.

Kevin Long wins the ball against Dundalk at the Cross. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Kevin Long wins the ball against Dundalk at the Cross. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

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