The Republic’s last major finals appearance was in 2002. The fans have been waiting 10 years, so how important will their support be?
They're probably the best fans in the world. No matter how the game's going, they're singing and getting right behind the team. That’s the good thing about Ireland: there’s no pressure to bring back medals. Everything we do is a bonus. That might change this time because we have such a good squad under such a good manager, so expectations might be higher. The main thing for every player is to do the jersey proud and come back with no regrets. It’s the Irish way. If we can emulate what happened in 2002 [getting through the groups and only losing to Spain on penalties] it will be no mean feat.
Ireland are often everybody’s second team. Do you think the positive feeling helps you to relax and enjoy the occasion or does it bring added pressure?
A lot of that is down to the support as well, because the Irish fans aren’t afraid of a drink and a bit of a craic and they rub off on any supporters they meet. They turn other supporters into Irish supporters and it goes on from there. It’s great: the more support we have at the games, the better – it pushes you on that extra step.
There’s a lot of competition for places in the striking department: yourself, Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle, Simon Cox and Jonathan Walters among others. Does this help to bring the best out of you?
The manager can’t bring every striker and a lot of it is down to how you perform at club level. If I’m banging them in week-in week-out for West Brom, I think I’ll have my name on that team sheet.
You were drawn in Group C alongside Spain, Italy and Croatia. What did you make of it?
Our first reaction was, “It’s one of the toughest groups”, so straightaway people were expecting us to come last. But when you think about it, that’s a good thing because we thrive on being underdogs and have nothing to lose. The first game is against Croatia, and if we can get a win there it sets us up nicely for Italy and Spain. We managed to beat Italy last summer as well, and on our day we are one of the toughest teams anyone can play against. I’m sure they are not looking forward to playing against us because they know how hard we are to break down.
Interview by Ben Welch. From the June 2012 issue of FourFourTwo. Shane Long wears the Puma v1.11 football boot. Visit puma.com/football.
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