Shane Long, Gortnahoe and Croke Park

Unique double on the big stage

 

GORTNAHOE IS a little parish about 10 or 15 minutes from Thurles. Gaelic football wasn’t very big and there were no local soccer teams when I was growing up so there was just hurling, really. We were only an intermediate club and still are but hurling was big there and it still is.

I’m the youngest in my family and I had two older brothers playing it, so they got me interested in the sport. My mother was into sports as well so we went to watch nearly every game Gortnahoe were playing in.

You’d always see me out on the pitch at half-time pucking around so it started from there, I suppose.

I used to run when I was a kid as well. The hurdles was my main event and I managed to run for Ireland at one stage in the Celtic Games. After that year I gave it up and concentrated on hurling and soccer and two years later again, I gave up the hurling to play soccer.

When I was young we had two players on the county intermediate team. I thought that was a massive thing and I looked up to them but other than that it was Nicky English and Pat Fox when I was really young and as I was getting older, there was Eoin Kelly.

I played mainly in the full-forward line but out in the half-forward line as well. As a player I used my speed, got in front of players, got the ball and stuck it over. I liked to run at players if I could, get turned on them and run for goal. It was straightforward enough – I’d rather get three points than one, I suppose.

The first year with Tipperary minors we got to the All-Ireland semis and we won the Munster championship on the way. We beat Cork in a great game in Semple Stadium but we lost to Galway up in Croke Park.

The next year we lost the Munster final to Cork by two points. I remember they went for a goal from 40 yards out in the last minute when they were a point down and they scored it. I couldn’t believe they didn’t go for the point to make it a draw.

We got to the semi-final again but we lost to Kilkenny by a point. So they were hard games up in Croke Park, the first two games I played there, but the third time I got there I was playing soccer for Ireland against Slovakia and that was a good result.

I didn’t really know about becoming the first person to have played both hurling and soccer at Croke Park when it was happening. But after the game one of my best friends rang me up and told me – it’s definitely a nice little thing to look back on.

It’s an amazing feeling putting on the jersey for your county. You work with your club every night and put a lot of sweat into getting that county jersey. It’s the same for the soccer except in Croke Park there’s 70,000 fans shouting for you and not 35,000 shouting against you. That’s the only difference but there’s a great atmosphere up in Croke Park and I think with the Ireland soccer games it’s after picking up a lot.

Great crowds turn out and there’s a great atmosphere.

I remember we were in Dublin with the Ireland squad this year but we couldn’t go to the Tipperary-Waterford All-Ireland semi-final because we had training. But for the second half myself and Stephen Hunt ran into the caretaker’s sheds and he had a radio in there. I remember Waterford were a point up and next thing all you could hear was there was a free and Eoin Kelly was going to step up to take it. So I was giving it loads thinking "yes, Tipp are back in it and it’s going to be a draw."

But it was Eoin Kelly for Waterford who stuck it over and put them two points up. I didn’t really live that down.

But I remember in 2001 being at the All-Ireland final and seeing Tipperary win it so it’s nice to see them getting back up there and getting to All-Ireland semis, winning Munster titles and hurling leagues as well.

Sometimes I ring my friends and they’ll be talking about going to play a game of hurling or a final in Tipperary and things like that.

You would miss little bits like that but I don’t regret anything. I love what I’m doing at the moment, I’m playing football, and I can’t have any complaints really. But there’s plenty of time. When I’m 35 or 36 I could go back and play junior hurling for Gortnahoe – you never know.

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/sport/2008/1119/1227026413662.html

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