Shane Long discusses Southampton's Europa League challenge

Southampton's Shane Long celebrates scoring their first goal

The Irish forward is looking forward to playing in Europe this coming season.

Southampton's Shane Long celebrates scoring their first goalSouthampton's Shane Long is looking forward to playing in Europe

Southampton striker Shane Long has told Southampton's YouTube channel that he is looking forward to competing in the Europa League this season, describing it as a 'new challenge' for him and the club.

The Irish striker signed a new contract with the Saints yesterday, committing his future to the club at least for the next four years, which will keep him at St Mary's until 2020.

Long signed from Hull City back in 2012 for a reported £12 million, and despite some injury problems, he has become one of the clubs's key players, netting 13 times last term to help the Saints make it into European competition,

Republic of Ireland's Shane Long dejected after the gameShane Long has been playing for the Republic of Ireland at Euro 2016 this summer

And the Irishman, who played in all four of the Republic's Euro 2016 fixtures before their defeat to France in the first knockout phase, is looking forward to returning to the continent, this time with his club.

"I'm feeling in good shape, I'm excited about what is going to be a tough challenge," Long said.

"With Europe, it's a new experience for me and it's going to be a new experience for the club and it could be a great year.

"But we know it's going to be hard work – some weeks we're going to have three games in a week and it is going to be tough, but we have the players that are able to cope with it and hopefully we can put in the performances that we deserve.

Southampton's Shane Long scores their first goalSouthampton's Shane Long

“It's a different challenge for most players in the team, with the exception of Berty, who's won the Champions League, and different players, but for most of us it's a new challenge.

“A challenge for us to test ourselves against some of the best teams in Europe, and the Premier League is getting better – every team's improving and we're the same. It's not going to be an easy season.

"There's a lot of hard work that goes into it, but hopefully we can get on a run of games where we're picking up results and just keep flowing through the season, and, as I said, who knows what can happen.”

Southampton finished 6th last season under former manager Ronald Koeman, who has since joined Premier League rivals Everton.

New manager Ronald Koeman poses with a Everton jersey after the press conferenceKoeman left Southampton for Everton, who will not be playing European football next season

A top six finish means the Saints will enter the Europa League at the Group Stage, where they will be seeded either second, third or fourth, meaning they could face sides including Zenit St Petersburg, Inter Milan, Athletic Bilbao or German outfit Schalke.

Manchester United will also enter the competition at the Group Stage, however they will be seeded first.

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch