Striker's effort against Aston Villa drew comparisons with Dennis Bergkamp but he is focused on being more consistent
Shane Long has been talking at West Bromwich Albion's training ground for the best part of an hour, covering everything from Roy Keane to Peppa Pig, but there is one subject that the Republic of Ireland international confesses to "feeling awkward" discussing, and it has nothing to do with his contract situation or the trials and tribulations of deadline day.
For someone as modest as Long, who is a footballer without an ego, there is nothing more uncomfortable than being showered with praise, which explains why he is keen to move the conversation on from the brilliance of the first of his two superb goals against Aston Villa on Monday. Long's simplistic take on that marvellous opening goal – "Chris Brunt put the ball on my toe and thankfully I managed to control it" – is a world apart from just about everyone else's description. In his analysis on Sky, Jamie Carragher drew comparisons with Dennis Bergkamp's wonder strike for Holland against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup.
After a fair bit of cajoling, Long eventually concedes that he has watched his goals "a couple of times" since. "I'll tell the truth, when I went back my missus had the game recorded and people were texting me to say [the pundits] had good things to say about me, so I did watch it back. I heard something about Bergkamp-esque – I always said that Carragher knew what he was talking about!" Long says, laughing. "But it's in the past now."
Long, who has scored four in his last four games for club and country, including the third in Ireland's 3-0 win over Latvia in Martin O'Neill's first game in charge, is playing with supreme confidence and anyone who watched his performance against Villa could be forgiven for wondering why he is not more prolific. "That is the next step – consistency. It can't be just a one-off," Long says, "but I feel I've been playing well for most of the season when I've got my chances."
At times it is tempting to think that Long could benefit from being a bit more selfish on the pitch. "A few people have said that to me," he says. "The latest one was Roy Keane, when I was away with Ireland. Roy said: 'You need to be more greedy, take more shots on and don't look for that pass rather than taking that chance yourself.'
"That stayed with me. You get in these positions; where someone else might be in a better position but you have a good chance of scoring yourself and more often than not I'll try to set up the other person. I don't want to be one of those greedy strikers but, ultimately, you do get marked up on how many goals you score."
Keane is set to become a more influential figure in Long's career following the former Manchester United captain's appointment as O'Neill's assistant. Excited at the prospect of working under a duo who have "created a buzz around the country", Long says his one reservation about Keane was quickly allayed. "You hear stories about what [Keane] was like but in my eyes he was always a legend and an idol of mine, so I was a bit afraid to meet him, because people say don't meet your idols. But I wasn't disappointed. He's a really nice man as well as really professional.
"He has got that reputation that kind of scares players a little bit. We were doing shooting before the Latvia game, where you just set each other up but then Roy came in and started setting us up for shots. Everyone was saying: 'I'd better hit the target here.' We started hitting them in the top corner and the keeper was thinking: 'What's going on?' So I think Roy will be a positive influence with things like that, because you know that – I don't know how else to say this – he won't take any shit. He'll expect the best."
Since making his debut for Ireland in 2007 Long has won 43 caps, yet on Twitter on Monday evening some responded to his display against Villa by questioning why Roy Hodgson had failed to call the 26-year-old into the England setup. Long being Long, he laughed along with what became a running joke and later tweeted that he would be on the phone to Hodgson the next day, albeit with a gentle reminder that he had scored at Wembley in May, when Ireland drew 1-1 with England. "I'd never take offence to anything like that," Long says, smiling. "I was just trying to have a bit of banter."
Long, by his own admission, is extremely laid back, so there was never any danger he would throw his toys out of the pram when Albion unexpectedly accepted a bid from Hull on deadline day only to later pull the plug on the deal. "It was a bit of a shock but that's football. If the offer is there and it's good for the club, it's something they've got to look at. It was a bit strange that they were willing to let me go but the gaffer [Steve Clarke] spoke to me and said I was a big part of his plans and that kind of reassured me.
"You can see now that he trusts me as a player. There is competition here with [Nicolas] Anelka, [Victor] Anichebe, [Matej] Vydra, [Markus] Rosenberg, myself and [Saido] Berahino – so I think to start in the team shows that the manager is confident in your ability."
The one issue still to be resolved is Long's contract, which expires at the end of next season. The ball is in Albion's court but Long gives the impression that he would welcome the chance to extend his stay.
"Happiness counts for a lot, and I'm happy here. The fans are always singing about me, the lads are great, I like playing for the manager, I'm settled with my family, we've already planned for my daughter [Teigan] to go to school here next year, so life's good at the moment."
Another child is on the way, which means that Long, who is a talented singer and guitarist, may have some more art work to get on with at home in the new year. "I can draw cartoon characters – Peppa Pig, Mickey Mouse and Ben & Holly – pretty decent, so I did my little girl's play room. She's happy with it and that's the main thing," Long says. "I got an A in art at school and I always said that if I wasn't getting into football I would be into design or some sort of architecture."
On the pitch, his plans have already been drawn up for the rest of the campaign. "The main aim for me is to get to double figures," Long says before Saturday's trip to Newcastle. "Last season I got to nine [goals] and it was frustrating, so I want to get to 10 as soon as possible this season and try to kick on from there."