Shane Long: The one that got away from Tipperary hurling 3 months ago

Shane Long: The one that got away from Tipperary hurling

Michael Cleary is asked about the one that got away from Tipperary hurling, he replies, 'don't forget Gortnahoe-Glengoole.'

Some scorched sod on the Tipperary-Kilkenny border and the Gortnahoe-Glengoole intermediates are warming up for a mid-Tipp championship game.

Michael Cleary pushing 30, is one of the senior members of the team and he pairs up with a buzzy young gun for one of the drills.

"He had legs like tree-trunks and the muscle on them was scandalous like, he was only 18 at the time and I was just thinking to myself, 'what the f*ck am I doing here,'" the club chairman recalls now, some 15 years on.

The bristling thoroughbred he pucked over and back with was Shane Long.

"Jesus, imagine if we'd held onto him."

Shane Long's remarkable story would read very differently then, but sporting success was always going to be the main theme.

It was in and around 2005 when Gortnahoe-Glengoole GAA club began bracing itself. An athletics prodigy with Slieveardagh, that helps to explain the pistols for legs but their great white hope was far from pigeonholed.

He excelled at badminton, was a natural on the guitar and with St. Kevin's in Two-Mile-Borris and latterly with St Michael's in Tipp town, he was the best soccer player they had. This youngster could go any way he wanted.

Shane Long at the Community Games finals in Mosney. He was a supremely talented athlete who won All-Irelands in the 100m sprint and the 250m hurdles. He also broke a Munster 200m sprint record, running 24.40 in his time. Pic via Tipperary Live.

But even though Gortnahoe is all hurling, soccer unsurprisingly became the chosen one when Pat Dolan and Cork City came calling. Second chances are non-existent in professional football.

So the Longs moved to Cork, where Shane's chief-mentor was smiling down. As a youngster, his father Eamonn had been his sidekick and his guide. His sudden passing knocked his son back but Shane was determined to do him proud going forward.

His mother Ann didn't have to think twice about it and just like Eamonn would have done, she travelled the length and breadth of the county and the country to allow him to chase the dream.

Long impressed in his year in the south west - so much so that when Kevin Doyle was making the move from Leeside to Reading, the Berkshire club asked for a 19-year-old Tipperary chap too.

His star took off - he scored 44 goals in 174 appearances for the club and, back home, a certain parish in mid Tipperary resembled some sort of shrine to the colours blue and white.

"I remember when he was at Reading, sure half of Gortnahoe were going around in Reading jerseys, it was this huge novelty at the time and everybody was so proud to say he was from here. He went brilliant over there" continues Cleary.

Paddy McCormack wasn't surprised.

Long was a county minor in 2004 and 2005 and the Thurles Sarsfields club man (Tipp minor manager from 2001 to 2005) had only once before seen a talent like his.

"I hadn't seen a forward like him since Lar Corbett. You name it, Shane had it.

"The pace, power, the brains for it, that eye for a goal, just like Larry, he could change a game all by himself. That's exactly what he did in our two Munster finals - he scored 4-4 from play in the two years on the big day. He lived for that big day, it's hard to explain it but he was just one of those players who came up with the big plays that nobody else can when it really really matters.

"He was something else, committed and brave but he had that natural raw talent too..."

Long would have made it three years a county minor, McCormack nods, only for the move to Cork City.

"That's Jimmy Doyle, Eoin Kelly stuff. That's how good he was, that's how good he would have been. We'd love to have had him for longer in Tipperary but we're all so delighted it worked out well for him.

"He was the most honest, hard-working and modest young lad you could ever meet. He got a good grounding in Gortnahoe, his father's passing would have been a huge knock for him, especially a lad so young and I know he was such an inspiration for Shane, but his mother was amazing. She brought him everywhere, to every different sport, there wasn't a place she didn't bring him and she could be up till all hours bringing him to games and training sessions..."

The time was always going to come.

"I remember after we lost that semi-final to Kilkenny by a point in 2004, Shane was absolutely devastated in the dressing room afterwards. That was the type of lad he was, he put everything, absolutely everything into it. So competitive and so honest, you just couldn't fault him...

"I wished him well in the dressing room and I just had a feeling, I knew the way things were going with the soccer and I had a feeling that might be the last we'd see of him with Tipperary. 

"Little did I know he'd come back a few years later playing soccer for Ireland in Croke Park. I'll tell you, there's not too many lads who have done that in hurling and soccer!"

That's for sure.

He's come a long way but those Gortnahoe roots aren't forgotten.

"He just comes from a really nice decent family, his mother's a lovely woman, his brothers are both great lads," adds Cleary.

"He's put us on the map but he still comes back the odd summer and you'd see him out pucking in the field or he might go to a training session. He's helped us with fundraising runs and initiatives we've done in the club too, he still remembers!

"You'd be so proud of him for what he's gone on to achieve and what he's done for himself. You'd have the odd lad saying, 'ah he doesn't score enough,' but to us he's already made it like. He's doing what he loves, he has a great life for himself and sure isn't it great for us to say we're from the same place as Shane Long."

Southampton's red and white goes well in Gortnahoe now. The Blue and Gold will always wonder...