YOUNG Burnley defender Kevin Long hopes to have done enough to earn himself a run in the side, after enduring a long wait to break into the first team.
The Irishman is nearing the end of his third full season with the Clarets, having signed from League of Ireland side Cork halfway through the club’s Premier League campaign.
But it was only in December under Sean Dyche – his fourth Burnley manager, that Long earned his full Clarets debut.
The 22-year-old admits he never imagined it would take him so long to make the breakthrough.
But having made a good impression in loan spells at Accrington Stanley, Rochdale and Portsmouth – and making a first team start in the midweek draw with Middlesbrough – he is ready to make his mark at Turf Moor.
In the absence of injured defenders Michael Duff and Ben Mee, Long admits it came as a pleasant surprise to be named in the back four to face Middlesbrough, ahead of Canadian international David Edgar.
And after recording a clean sheet in Tuesday’s stalemate, he is ready to answer the call if it comes again at Brighton on Saturday.
“All I can do is keep a clean sheet and I’ve done that, so hopefully I can stay in the team,” said Long, who revealed it was late when he learned of his inclusion in Tuesday’s team.
“The manager usually names the team the day before but for some reason he left it until just before the game. I didn’t mind. Everyone has to prepare for the game so it’s up to everyone to prepare mentally and physically anyway.
“Everyone was in with a chance of starting, so I was just delighted when he picked me.
“I was just itching to get out there. I’ve been working hard on the training ground and in the gym the last few weeks so I was just delighted to get on.”
Long admits he has found the last three season in the Turf Moor wilderness tough, after Owen Coyle fended off competition from Celtic to pluck the young stopper from the League of Ireland.
“I thought I’d just go straight into the team,” he said. “But I needed the loan spells to gain experience (of the English game). It’s a lot quicker pace than in Ireland.
“When I came over I was very raw and I just needed to work on a lot of things.
“The loan spells when I was out gave me a lot to work on and I think I did well. Since I’ve come back I think I’m a better player, stronger, and I just hope that I can kick on now.”
Having finally forced his way into the side, he is now looking to cement his place at the club, with negotiations about a new contract underway.
“It’s always tough when you keep going away and then there are new players coming in all the time who need to settle in,” he added.
“But I’ve been around the club pretty much all season so I feel a lot more settled now.
“A lot of managers came in and they all wanted to see me out on loan to play some games first.
“I’ve done that with almost every manager. Even this season I went out to Portsmouth for a little bit. I’ve come in and trained really well so hopefully the gaffer keeps picking me now.”
Of his future, the defender added: “I’ve been in talks recently but there’s nothing been finalised yet. I just need to wait and see what happens.
“I want to be playing games, so if that happens I’m happy.”