Shane Long is in the form of his life.
That is a statement with which Martin O'Neill is delighted to agree.
This season, Long has nine goals for Southampton in the Premier League. That is the most the Tipp man has ever scored in English football's top tier. The majority of those goals have come in the latter half of the season since Long became first choice for Ronald Koeman. With Euro 2016 edging ever closer, that is an encouraging fact for O'Neill.
The Ireland manager spoke to Balls.ie before his appearance on TV3 last night.
He is and it is great to see. I think that he had gained a great deal of confidence from some of the international matches, in particular, scoring against the world champions. It's great to see him carrying on that form now. That's very encouraging for him and us as a consequence.
In recent weeks, Ronald Koeman has been effusive in his praise of the 29-year-old striker. The club paid £12 million for Long. At the time, it was viewed as perhaps an excessive fee. However, Koeman believes Long has shown he was worth every penny. The Dutch manager has been impressed with the improvements - specifically in terms of touch, control and movement - which Long has made since his move to Southampton.
O'Neill has also noticed improvements in Long's game. In particular, the 64-year-old feels Long is making a 'conscious effort' to retain possession of the ball.
I think as a centre-forward - because I came up in the school where a great manager like Brian Clough wanted a centre-forward who could get hold of the ball - it's most important to get hold of it; don't flick it here, don't flick it away. I think Shane is making a conscious effort of trying to do this.
The very fact that he knows he's got a bit of pace and can outrun most defenders if the ball's knocked over the top - that's fine, but there are other aspects to centre-forward play. The movement, that's important but eventually getting hold of it when it's up there... naturally, we need centre-forwards who can hold the ball up, particularly under stress.
I think back to the time at the 1982 World Cup when a very young Norman Whiteside came on the scene. He was 17 going on 26 but he was so strong. It was great, he could hold it up and give us all a breather; that was essential. Those sort of things are very important for any centre-forward who's going to be playing at the top level.
Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE