Shane Long has been hailed by Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill and teammate Daryl Murphy ahead of the national team’s Euro 2016 preparations.
Long contributed 10 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Southampton in 2015/16 while a further three goals in other competitions saw him nearly double his efforts from the previous season.
The striker’s form was a key factor in Saints’ strong end to the season which secured a sixth place finish in the Premier League and brought with it European football for next year.
Ireland manager O’Neill believes that the increased playing time Long has had, coupled with impressive showings at international level too, have benefited the forward.
“Shane's knuckled down and he's got some competition for a place at Southampton and that's been pretty healthy for him,” O'Neill told reporters.
“Naturally if you want to trace it back, I think the goal against Germany in October was a massive boost. It is something special when you score the winning goal against the world champions, you would walk back to the club on a natural high.”
Long has played through the middle and in wide position for Saints and has reaped the rewards of that versatility, according to O’Neill.
“He's taken hold of his game, obviously got a bit of confidence from somewhere and he's trying to play how a centre forward would play,” said the Irish boss.
“I am naturally delighted for him, because it will give us an extra boost.”
And Long’s international teammate, Daryl Murphy, believes the Saints striker gives Ireland a crucial extra dimension in attack.
“I think Shane has always improved any time I’ve seen him to be honest with you,” said the Ipswich forward.
“He’s got everything you need to play at the top level and he does it week in, week out.
“He scores goals, he causes teams all sorts of problems, so I think it’s great for us to have a player like that with his pace and goal-scoring record in our squad.”
Ireland face the Netherlands at the Aviva Stadium on Friday night and take on Belarus next week.