Shane Long
Shane Long will carry the attacking burden for Ireland in France Ian Walton/Getty Images

The Republic of Ireland were one of the last Euro 2016 finalists to confirm their 23-man travelling party for the tournament in advance of Uefa's strict deadline, with manager Martin O'Neill waiting until after Tuesday's final experimental friendly against Belarus to inform the unlucky souls in person that they would not be going to France.

Any hopes that several fringe players would stake a late claim for selection were quashed by a surprising 2-1 defeat at Turners Cross Stadium in Cork that has further fuelled legitimate concerns over a chronic lack of depth.

Ireland's reputation is one of functionality and conservatism. Their squad, while not short on industry, graft and hard-working midfielders, is notably devoid of any intimidating attacking flair. That could prove fatal during a tricky group stage campaign that has pitted them against much-fancied Belgium, Italy and Sweden. It is also set to be the oldest team at the competition with an average player age of 29.

Captain Robbie Keane's eventual inclusion despite widespread concerns over a thigh injury was heralded as a real boost, but in reality the ageing Los Angeles Galaxy striker − who holds the distinction of being his country's record scorer with 67 goals in 143 appearances to date − should now be confined to a bit-part role from the bench.

Barring any late injury or unpopular omission by O'Neill, leading the line instead will be Southampton's Shane Long. The 29-year-old has arguably become one of Ireland's most influential players in recent times and his form is likely to prove essential in deciding whether or not they advance to the knockout stages for the first time at the third attempt.

Hailing from the small village of Gortnahoe in County Tipperary, Long was a gifted hurler in his youth and featured in two minor all-Ireland semi-finals before deciding to pursue his interest in football. He spent a short time at Cork City as a teenager, before following compatriot and more established forward Kevin Doyle to Reading in 2005 in a ridiculously cost-effective £92,000 package deal.

Shane Long
Long thrived at the Madejski Stadium after manager Brian McDermott replaced Brendan Rodgers Alex Livesey/Getty Images

While Doyle made an immediate impact, Long mainly featured as a substitute as the record-breaking Royals clicked under Steve Coppell and romped to their maiden top-flight promotion while racking up 106 points. He would go on to net five times during a two-year stay in the Premier League but questions over his long-term progress were later raised after he started just three times during the doomed six-month reign of Brendan Rodgers.

Former chief scout Brian McDermott's appointment as manager eventually proved a catalyst for improvement and he enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2010/11, scoring 25 goals as Reading orchestrated another impressive post-Christmas run and reached the Championship play-off final. A 4-2 defeat to Swansea City at Wembley spelled the end of his six-year tenure in Berkshire and a £6.5m ($9.3m) switch to West Brom soon followed.

Long, who has never been regarded as especially prolific, spent two-and-a-half seasons at The Hawthorns, chipping in with 22 goals during that time. A failure to agree a new contract contributed to a brief £7m pit stop at Hull, where he made just 15 appearances before a £12m switch to the south coast.

At the time of his arrival, Southampton had not long appointed Ronald Koeman following Mauricio Pochettino's defection to Tottenham Hotspur and were attempting to come to terms with a demoralising summer exodus that had seen Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Calum Chambers and Rickie Lambert all depart. Many were shocked that Hull had managed to generate such a handsome profit in only seven months and questions were raised over his general suitability.

Shane Long
Shane Long's recent form for Southampton has led to interest from Liverpool and Tottenham Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Those concerns were not totally extinguished during an indifferent first year with the Saints, but he is now coming off his best top-flight season. As well as leading to rumours over a bumper new contract designed to fend off mounting interest from Liverpool and Tottenham, Long's 10-goal haul in 2015/16 helped Koeman's side to record their highest-ever Premier League finish (sixth) and also booked a place in the Europa League.

An endlessly determined striker revered more for his insatiable work ethic, speed and surprising strength, more than his potency in front of goal, Long made his senior international debut against minnows San Marino in 2007 and has since earned 62 caps despite not always seeing eye-to-eye with O'Neill's predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni. He endured a frustrating time at Euro 2012, seemingly stuck behind Keane, Doyle, Jonathan Walters and even Simon Cox in a controversial pecking order as Ireland notched just once en route to an early exit.

Both Keane and Walters scored more frequently in qualifying for the latest European Championships, yet Long can boast the most memorable moment of the campaign when he collected a searching ball from goalkeeper Darren Randolph and sped past three defenders before confidently lashing past Manuel Neuer to secure a shock defeat of world champions Germany. A subsequent defeat to Poland ended their hopes of an automatic spot, but they eventually qualified by virtue of a 3-1 aggregate play-off victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Similar heroics will be required if a limited side are to make their mark in France.