There were a few eyebrows raised across the Irish Sea when Sean Roughan and Sam Long joined Drogheda on loan.
There was no doubt Sam Long needed games; he made his senior debut this season, and a one-game spell at Gainsborough didn’t give him the first-team experience he needed to develop. Sean Roughan’s move was a little more surprising; one minute, he’s training with Chelsea and Southampton, and the next, he can’t make the bench at Lincoln City. His regression from starting left-back to completely left behind was a surprise to fans, who speculated that there must be an underlying issue as well as injury.
That issue certainly isn’t a lack of talent, and both boys are earning rave reviews over in Ireland. Roughan has expressed a desire to return here in the summer and fight for a first-team place; the more reserved Sam Long has simply made statement after statement with the gloves on, protecting his goal in increasingly impressive performances. He has impressed so much that he was recently called up to the Scotland Under-21 squad, having previously been on an England training camp. Roughan has been involved on the international scene as well; whilst we were all impressed with Brooke Norton-Cuffy and Lewis Fiorini facing each other, an Imp of our own was starting all three of the Republic of Ireland U19s’ Elite Phase qualifiers.
The left-sided defender has been a key figure for the Drogs, although he didn’t feature in their notable 1-0 win against Shamrock Rovers this weekend due to being suspended. He has still picked up a couple of Man of the Match awards whilst in Ireland, but told the Irish Independent he intends to come back and fight for his place in the Lincoln squad.
“The plan is to go back there to Lincoln and try my hardest to get back in and play, and that’s all I can do,” he told the Drogheda Independent. “Football is a mentally tough game and if you’re not in the squad it’s tough, but you just have to deal with it, get on with it and try to do everything you possibly can on and off the pitch to get back into the team. This loan, with all the games in April, May and into June as well, is going to do me the world of good. I can’t thank Drogheda enough. They’ve given me faith, they’ve played me, he (Doherty) has told me to go out and play and I can’t thank him enough. Even the players and staff have made me feel welcome and I can’t thank them enough.”
That desire seems to be matched by our own inclination to bring him back; his one-year extension was recently triggered, meaning he’ll be a Lincoln City player under Mark Kennedy. If there was a clash between the player and previous coach Michael Appleton, perhaps the slate has been wiped clean. If there wasn’t, then the young defender has done enough in Ireland to suggest there’s a strong future at Sincil Bank; not something we could say with confidence a year ago.
Roughan has impressed significantly; he is currently fifth in the division for number of interceptions (119) and top for interceptions per 90 (8.37). He’s 13th overall for shots blocked per 90 minutes, and 16th for aerial duel success (65.31%), which is impressive as that also includes strikers challenging for the ball. He’s eighth in the division for number of aerial duels contested in his own area and 16th for the percentage of success in that area, winning more than 56% of his headers. We knew the boy could play, he’d had a first-team run with us, but having slipped out of contention he had a big point to prove in Ireland. I think he’s proved it.
Sam Long is a different matter; he might have taken the same journey as Roughan, but he left on a high; he made his League debut for the club at Plymouth, having made five cup appearances prior to that. He kept two clean sheets; one against Bowers & Pitsea and another away at Bradford City. Long seemingly bucks the trend of young keepers appearing and disappearing just as quickly; I can remember players such as Ayden Duffy filling the role of reserve, but not making the grade. Long filled the role, took his chances and didn’t look out of place. In the FA Cup, he played in our 1-0 defeat against Hartlepool, but wasn’t at fault for their strike.
Since going to Ireland, Long has developed even more. He was the star of the show last week as they beat Shamrock Rovers 1-0, a result described by the Irish Times as the shock of the season. He even made the byline, with the goalscorer mentioned and then the words’ Sam Long was in inspired form for the Drogs’. When your keeper gets a mention under the headline, you know he’s done well. “Sam Long, United’s on-loan Scotland Under 21 goalkeeper, was again in inspired form throughout a first half in which Drogheda repelled everything Rovers threw at them.,” the paper wrote. “Long produced a stunning flying save to keep out Danny Mandroiu’s top corner-bound free-kick. Andy Lyons and Dylan Watts then contrived to play the striker in but his effort was saved by the outstanding Long.” Long has made 44 saves during his time in the team, the fifth-highest in the division. He is also fifth in saves made per 90 minutes, with 2.92, and for prevented goals, which is a metric I’m not entirely sure about, as surely every save is a prevented goal. he is fourth in terms of most conceded though, and the Drogs are third bottom of the division, so Long is getting plenty of action.
Make no mistake, this has been a successful spell for both players, and that’s reflected in the latest news to come out of Ireland. Drogs manager Kevin Doherty admitted he wanted to keep the players until the end of the season, but that might not happen. “We won’t know until later into June,” he said, speaking yesterday. “The whole new manager thing has thrown everyone and everything over there. Being honest, though, there is a possibility that both (players) could be recalled in the window.” Reports suggest he met with Jez George after their game on Monday to discuss both players’ future, although most Imps were under the impression the pair would return in the summer. Their transfer window is June; if the pair are not recalled, they have to wait until November before joining the Imps squad.
That might be a little too late to stake a serious claim for a first-team spot, which both seemingly want to do. Much depends on Mark Kennedy’s assessment of the two, but it’s surely likely they’ll return from Ireland as key members of our squad going forward. Sam Long must be knocking on the door to be our number one, and Sean Roughan’s form at the start of the 2020/21 season has proven his quality, and his regular football over there confirms it. It might not be the transfer business fans anticipate, but the returning duo could come back as key members of the first-team squad, having been on the periphery when they left.