Tipp man saves the Irish

Gortnahoe native Shane Long kicks the ball to the Polish net in the UEFA European Championship Qualifying Round at Aviva Stadium.  Picture: Bridget Delaney
Tipperary star Shane Long kept the Republic of Ireland’s European Championship hopes alive with a late equaliser against Poland on Sunday night.

Tipperary star Shane Long kept the Republic of Ireland’s European Championship hopes alive with a late equaliser against Poland on Sunday night.

Manager Martin O’Neill sprung Long from the bench late in the game with Ireland trailing 1-0 to the Poles.

It was a late introduction for the Gortnahoe man who had been expected to come on earlier and use his pace to trouble the Polish defence.

But better late than never and the Southampton player took the first chance that came his way to score a vital goal.

It keeps Irish hopes alive as a defeat would almost certainly have spelt elimination and the chance to reach the finals in France.

The Irish still have a lot of work to do as they trail Poland, Germany and Scotland in one of the championship’s most competitive groups.

But the point that Long’s goal earned could yet prove crucial.

His many Tipperary fans will now hope to see Long play a bigger role in the remaining games in the group as wins are vital if the side is to progress.

He is a proven goalscorer and his record won’t be lost on boss O’Neill.

Long was a promising hurler before he opted for a career in soccer and could easily have challenged for a place on the Tipperary team, having lined out for his native county at minor level.

Twitter went into overdrive following his goal on Sunday with one Offaly player remarking that he might have been playing for Tipperary in the league quarter final in Tullamore earlier in the day if his career hadn’t taken the direction it did.