Having ticked a Premier League start off his Turf Moor bucket list, Clarets defender Kevin Long is now building towards a prolonged stay in Sean Dyche’s XI.
With the familiar pairing of Michael Keane and Ben Mee sidelined through injury, the 26-year-old Irishman was handed his first senior start for the club in almost three-and-a-half years in the stalemate against West Bromwich Albion.
Changes in management, numerous loan spells and a serious knee injury, sustained on New Year’s Day in 2015 in the top flight fixture against Newcastle United at St James’s Park, have affected the centre-back’s climb to the top since his move seven years ago.
However, with his 19th start in the bag, the former Cork City youth player is determined to establish himself and make an impression before his contract expires next summer.
“I want to get in the team and play games,” he said. “It’s been my objective from day one at the club. All you can do is keep working hard on the training ground.
“It’s up to the gaffer to pick the team at the end of the day. I can’t complain with the two lads in front of me, they’ve been outstanding, so I’ll just have to keep working hard and see where that gets me.”
Long added: “He can only pick 11 and two centre halves, and when those two who are playing have been brilliant, one is up for young player of the year and one won player of the year last year, it’s hard to get in the team.
“It’s difficult, it can be frustrating at times because you’re not playing and every footballer wants to play games, but all you can do is keep working hard and make sure you’re ready for when the chance comes.”
Keane and Mee have been inseparable this term, owing to their phenomenal form at the heart of the Clarets defence, and Long is ready to use the duo’s development as inspiration.
While former Manchester City academy player Mee claimed the Players’ Player of the Year gong last season, PFA Young Player of the Year nominee Keane has gone on to earn a couple of England caps.
“Keano and Ben have been outstanding for two years now, they’ve been brilliant,” he said. “I can’t really complain and knock on the gaffers door if the lads have been brilliant.
“Development should come with games. I haven’t really been lucky enough to get a run of games at this club, so hopefully that can happen.”
Long is also hopeful of following in the footsteps of Republic of Ireland internationals Stephen Ward, Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady with Martin O’Neill expected to keep tabs on the trio in the build up to the World Cup in Russia.
He said: “I need to play on a consecutive basis for that to happen.
“But it’s always an aim. It would be an honour to play for your country and I’d be buzzing if that happens.”