“I wouldn’t like to be Keith picking the team… I just hope he picks me!”

 BOHEMIANS v UCD
SSE Airtricity League
Friday April 19 2019, Dalymount Park, 7.45pm

Match sponsor: Bang Bang. Matchball sponsor: Used Car Centre 01-4594511

Keith Ward believes no matter what starting XI manager Keith Long picks against UCD, there is going to be someone watching on from the sidelines feeling aggrieved.

Monday’s trip to face reigning champions Dundalk was Bohs’ fourth of eight fixtures in the month of April.

With games coming thick and fast, Long made the bold the decision to make seven changes to the starting – and largely settled – XI that had won 1-0 away to Finn Harps three days previously.

None of the changes were enforced, but Long is wary of overloading part-time players with a busy schedule meaning his squad’s strength in depth is at present being tested to the max.

One of those rested was Ward, who, like the rest of those watching from the bench or stands, faces an anxious wait to see whether he will win back his place in the team.

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Not only did Bohs put it up to the champions on their own patch, they did that and much, much more.

They were the far better team for the vast majority of the game, dictating the pace in a way that belied for many a lack of inexperience and others a lack of game-time.

Driven on by an encouraging away support, the Gypsies’ attempts to find the back of the net proved elusive, however.

And, in the third minute of injury-time, their efforts and enthusiasm came to a shuttering halt when Paddy Kirk was contentiously adjudged to have taken down his former Bohs team-mate Daniel Kelly inside the box.

Referee Tomás Connolly awarded a penalty and Patrick Hoban blasted past James Talbot to send the Gypsies home empty-handed. They dropped to third in the table behind Derry City in the process.

While the manner of the defeat was cruel, now that the dust has settled, Bohs, while not satisfied with moral victories, can still afford to take a lot of positives from their performance.

Ward said: “I was in the stands and I think anyone watching the game will think we deserved to win. We were gutted with the way we lost but everyone who played can hold their heads up high about the way they performed.

“We showed how good a squad we have. Man to man, we were excellent. The young lads that came in – the like of Paddy Kirk and Andy Lyons – and Ryan Swan starting his first game in 18 months, for them to play like that against the champions was extremely pleasing.

“There is good strength in depth there. Every year we lose players but Keith obviously has a good eye for them because there is real quality coming through.”

Bohs have been slow starters in recent seasons, but things seemed to have clicked a lot more quickly this term.

Ward said: “It’s a combination of good talent spotting and really hard work training.

“You look at those lads on Monday, some of them have barely played this season but they weren’t tired as the game went on and that’s down to hard work and everyone pushing each other in training all the time.

“But they controlled the game for a lot of it too which is important as you don’t tire yourself out when you’re on the ball whereas they might have if they had to chase it.

“When we train, it’s very competitive. Trevor Croly doesn’t give you an inch! That means we’re all pushing and pushing each other.

“I wouldn’t like to be Keith picking the team tomorrow! I just hope he picks me! No matter who he picks there will be lads in the stand who will feel they should be starting.”

While supporters are still kicking themselves about the way such a positive performance turned sour on Monday, Ward and Co don’t have the luxury of dwelling on it.

They  face a UCD who have improved since Bohs beat them 2-0 in Belfield in the second week of the season and have beaten both Waterford and Cork City in recent weeks.

Ward said: “UCD are 10 games in now and they will know a lot about themselves now and about the division compared to when we last played them.

“They have come on a lot already and will keep improving. They like to play the right way and will be tough opposition. It’s a very competitive division and there are no easy games – everyone knows that.”

The Jodi Stand is on course to sell out for the fifth home league game in a row – supporters are advised to buy online to avoid disappointment – with Ward admitting the players are thriving off the encouragement from the stands.

He added: “It’s great seeing big crowds in Dalymount. I’ve had people on to me looking for tickets for games we as players can’t even get hold of!

“It’s great as a player to come out to see a packed stand hopping like that. In previous seasons you might have had three or four games like that.

“But last year the crowds were up a good bit and the Jodi has been full for four games we’ve played so far this year.

“That pushes players on even more. They’re there to see you, to support you and we take pride in that. You don’t want to let them down.”

TEAM NEWS 

Cristian Magerusan (cruciate) is Bohs’ only absentee.

“I’m excited to see how we can perform against a team of Dundalk’s quality”

DUNDALK v BOHEMIANS
SSE Airtricity League
Monday April 15 2019, Oriel Park, 7,45pm

Bohemians’ good start to the season faces perhaps its toughest test yet tonight when we take on champions Dundalk at Oriel Park.

The Gypsies’ haul of 20 points from the opening nine games matches the club’s start in our last league-winning campaign of 2009.

Friday’s 1-0 win away to Finn Harps continued the encouraging run of form built on a mean defence – it was James Talbot’s seventh clean sheet.

It was also Bohs’ first win in Ballybofey since 2008. 

While most of the intervening years have seen both clubs ply their trade in different divisions, there have been some notable frustrating nights in the north-west in recent years for Keith Long’s men – most notably the FAI Cup defeat in 2017 having led injury-time and a stoppage-time saved penalty a year previously.

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But Bohs exorcised those demons with a professional performance against a gutsy Harps side. 

Danny Grant netted the only goal of the game and, as revealed by skipper Derek Pender on social media later that night, was again the toast of his team-mates after his mother Julie made cupcakes for the team for their return trip.

Manager Keith Long said:  ”The result made for a nice journey home… and the lads all enjoyed Danny Grant’s mam’s cakes too. They were very nice!

“The game wasn’t a great spectacle but we worked very hard to get the three points.

“Ultimately I felt we were in control of the game for the most part but Harps threw things at us in the last 10 minutes.

“We were unlucky not to go in 2-0 at the break and we had chances in the second half to increase our lead.”
 
If there were any criticisms to be made of Bohs’ performance, it was their inability to take the chances on offer that ought to have increased the winning margin.

Against Dundalk, they are unlikely to be able afford to pass up such opportunities in front of goal.

They face a Lilywhites side who have lost two games in a row for the first time since 2016. They haven’t lost three on the bounce since 2012.

Long said: “Irrespective of Dundalk’s current form, Oriel Park is a very hard place to go to. They are league and cup champions for a reason.

“I can’t remember the last time Dundalk lost twice in a row so they will want to right that.

“But we have done well in recent weeks so we will go up confident and we will have strong belief in ourselves.

“We need to put in a very good performance to get anything from the game. If we can do that, we’ll see where that takes us.

“It’s a big test for us but I’m excited to see how we can perform against a team of Dundalk’s quality.”

TEAM NEWS

Rob Cornwall returns from suspension. Cristian Magerusan (cruciate) remains out.

“I can’t have any complaints given how well they have played”

FINN HARPS v BOHEMIANS
SSE Airtricity League
Friday April 12 2019, Finn Park, Ballybofey, 7.45pm

After six clean sheets in their opening eight league games, Bohemians’ defence has understandably been a difficult one to break into.

The Gypsies have conceded three league goals this season – from a penalty, from a corner and from a free-kick.

The strength of their rearguard and performances of goalkeeper James Talbot have earned many plaudits.

But one man has been watching on from the bench wondering would he ever get a chance to prove his worth.

Aaron Barry joined on loan from Cork City on the eve of the new season.

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The former Derry City stalwart helped the Leesiders to a second-placed league finish last season but it is Bohs who currently occupy that position as the division begins the second series of league fixtures.

The experienced central defender would have expected to have started for the first team in a league game by now.

James Finnerty arrived to the league from Aston Villa via Rochdale unproven at this level, while last year Rob Cornwall struggled to rediscover the form he displayed in 2017 due to a persistent niggling hamstring injury that affected his game-time and performance levels.

But such has been the form of Cornwall and Finnerty’s partnership in the heart of the Bohs defence this season that it has taken a suspension to the former – sent off in last Saturday’s 2-0 win away to Sligo Rovers – to put Barry in contention to make his first league start for the Gypsies.

Barry said: “It’s unfortunate for Rob to be missing out. Himself and James have been very solid at the back.

“In fairness, I arrived the day before the season started and the two lads haven’t put a foot wrong.

“I know how football works, I can’t have any complaints given how well they have played.

“It’s important to have strength in depth at any club and that’s what you want. But obviously I want to play. Rob’s suspension will hopefully give me an opportunity.”

Barry’s involvement thus far has been reduced to two substitute appearances in the league and starts in the Leinster Senior Cup and most recently the EA Sports Cup.

He gave a glimpse of what he is capable of in the former – netting twice in a 4-1 win against Shelbourne.

He said: “I’ve scored a couple of goals. We’ve been a threat at set-pieces this season – as you saw with James’ overhead kick that went in off his head!

“We all need to chip in with goals to take the pressure of Dinny.”

Barry is coming into a side that have belied mid-season predictions, but he is repeating the mantra of everyone keeping their feet on the ground.

They face a tricky trip to Ballybofey tomorrow – a venue that hasn’t always been kind to Keith Long’s teams in recent seasons.

He added: “I wasn’t paying too much attention to pre-season predictions but I guess people were thinking Bohs would be aiming for mid-table.

“But as soon as I came in, I could see the quality that is around the squad.

“It’s obviously been difficult for Bohs losing three or four good players every closed season but they’ve recruited well and replaced them with more quality.

“There is a good mix of young players but experience too with the likes of Derek Pender, Dinny Corcoran and Rob Cornwall.

“We’re going well at the moment and we are winning games but that can change quickly.

“We can’t get ahead of ourselves. There is a long season ahead and there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way.”

As for his own future, Barry admits that is still up in the air. His loan deal from Cork City ends in July.

He added: “I don’t look too far ahead. At the moment I’m a Bohs player and I’m determined to make the most of any opportunities I get.”

TEAM NEWS

Rob Cornwall is suspended having been sent off against Sligo Rovers last week.

Scott Allardice (facial injury) returns to the fold. Cristian Magerusan (cruciate) remains suspended.

“We’ve put a level of expectation on ourselves that we want to win every game”

SLIGO ROVERS v BOHEMIANS
SSE Airtricity League
Saturday April 6 2019, The Showgrounds, 7.45pm

Conor Levingston believes determination and a strong team bond is behind Bohemians’ encouraging start to the season.

With four wins, two draws and a defeat from their opening seven games, Keith Long’s young guns sit third – eight points off the top but with two games on hand on leaders Shamrock Rovers.

Along the way, James Talbot has kept five clean sheets in the league and the Gypsies have fielded experimental line-ups in the Leinster Senior Cup and EA Sports Cup, progressing in both.

It all bodes well for the season ahead. Nobody is getting carried away but Levingston revealed that rather than patting themselves on the back for their encouraging start, this Bohs side are driven by points they have left behind and a determination to push on further.

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The Gorey man said: “We’ve had a really positive start. In the games we’ve played so far we’ve gelled quickly. But we’ve had bumps in the road too so we’re not getting carried away. We’re disappointed to lose down in Cork City and drop points against Waterford and Derry too.

“We’ve put a level of expectation on ourselves that we want to win every game. We’re disappointed when we lose and when we drop points.”

Much was made of the close-knit bond in the Bohs dressing room in recent seasons. With the loss of some senior pros and some strong characters, maintaining that atmosphere was going to be a challenge.

But leadership from the top and new recruits’ willingness to learn in pre-season has brought this squad even closer.

Levingston said: “There is great talent in the group. The togetherness within the squad is strong too.

“A lot of that comes down to the good pre-season we had and the work that Keith and Trevor Croly put in with us. The sessions were intense, we crammed a lot into them and we learned a lot.

“We weren’t ran into the ground as you might be at some clubs. Our focus was on our ball work.”

Like many of Bohs’ young guns, 21-year-old Levingston is a player looking to push on once more having returned to Ireland after four years learning his trade in England.

Many of his team-mates are in a similar position. Levingston joined from Wolves, Talbot returned to football after taking the guts of a year out having returned to Finglas after three years with Sunderland, James Finnerty returned to Skryne via Rochdale from Aston Villa, Danny Mandroiu to Ballymun from Brighton, Luke Wade-Slater to Dunshaughlin from Stevenage.

The difference in expectation and physicality between playing U23s development football in England compared to the demanding nature of League of Ireland football was a source of concern highlighted in pre-season.

Both Long and captain Derek Pender pleaded for patience as players would need time to adapt. But seven games in, it is a case of so far, so good.

Levingston said:”It’s my first experience of men’s football as it is for a lot of the lads. It is a big step up with a lot at stake. You have to be first to every ball and to every second ball.

“With so many young lads, it was a case or sink or swim for us all. Detser (Derek Pender) is our captain and he shows you tough love!

“He’s been around the block and knows the league inside out. If you’re not doing your job, he will let you know.

“I’ve learnt so much from him and so much from Bucko (Keith Buckley) too. It’s been a very welcoming dressing room.

“The lads already at the club said at the start that it was the best dressing room group they’ve ever had, so we were encouraged from the start.”
Bohs vice-captain Keith Buckley celebrates his winner v St Pat’s with team-mates Kevin Devaney and Rob Cornwall. Photo: Stephen Burke

Another factor in Bohs’ positive start has been the competition for places all over the pitch and with eight fixtures in April, the strength in depth of the squad is likely to be tested.

The first of those eight games took place on Monday as Bohs came from behind to beat Cabinteely 2-1 in the EA Sports Cup at Dalymount Park.

Bohs started sluggishly. But with 11 changes from the team that took to the field in last Friday’s 1-0 derby win against St Patrick’s Athletic, it was always going to take time to gel.

A much-improved second-half performance saw Bohs progress and Levingston admits players are looking over their shoulders with a queue of team-mates ready and willing to take their place in the starting line-up – especially in a congested month of fixtures where durability and tiredness will come into play more than ever.

Levingston added: “It’s important to have strength in depth. Training has been really competitive. The players not playing, none of them are sulking.

“They’re pushing everyone in training every night. Training is so competitive, which is a testament to the attitude of the players who are unlucky not to have been playing.

“There are lads bursting to play. You know if you’ve a bad game that there are lads who will jump at the chance to take your spot. You need that as a team if you want to be successful.”

Against Sligo, Bohs face a team eighth in the table who will be disappointed with their start to the season and determined to make amends.

Levingston added: “It’s a competitive league and there are no easy games. It’s my first time to play there obviously but the lads say it’s a hard place to go.

“But we’ll go down with a good attitude determined to get three points.”

TEAM NEWS

Scott Allardice is a doubt having suffered a facial injury against Cabinteely. Cristian Magerusan (cruciate) remains out.

“We want the positivity around the club to continue”

BOHEMIANS v CABINTEELY
EA Sports Cup
Monday April 1, Dalymount Park, 7.45pm

Bohemians welcome Cabinteely to Dalymount Park tonight with boss Keith Long hoping a much-changed side can progress and build upon recent momentum.

Bohs’ positive start to the season sees them third in the league table – eight points off the top but with two games in hand.

Friday’s Dublin derby 1-0 win against St Patrick’s Athletic saw another bumper crowd at Dalymount Park and Long wants to keep the feelgood factor going.

He said: “We want the positivity around the club to continue and we want to keep building momentum.

“We have had a reasonable start to our league campaign – four wins, two draws and one defeat, keeping five clean sheets along the way.

“It’s still very early days. We want to build on that but we also have to be mindful that we have nine games between tonight and May 3.

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“That means we will have to mix things up a bit with our team selection. But we are in a position where we can trust the strength in depth of our squad.”

Fixture pile-ups have been a bone of contention for many league managers in recent seasons, no more so than Long whose part-time players perhaps feel the strain more than their full-time rivals.

But he is looking at tonight’s game in a positive light and as a chance for players on the fringes of the first team to prove their worth.

They did so the last time Long made wholesale changes to his line-up when Bohs beat Shelbourne 4-1 in the Leinster Senior Cup last month in a team that contained just one started from the side that drew with Derry in the league three days previously.

He said: “Despite the congestion, a game like this is actually probably a good one for us to have as it allows us to give much-needed games to lads who might feel a bit disappointed that they haven’t been involved as much as they would have liked to have been so far.

“It allows lads a chance to step up and remind us what they have to offer and it will be a reward for some our U19s, who have started their season very well once again, and a chance for them to get to experience first-team football too.”

Bohs last won this competition a decade ago with a 3-1 win over Waterford in the RSC. Having come so close to reaching an FAI Cup final last season, Long’s men would love to progress and bring silverware back to Dalymount once more.

He added: “It’s a competition we want to progress in and to win. It would be fantastic to go all the way.

“But it will be a much-changed team who aren’t used to playing with each other coming up against a side who have made a strong start to the season in the First Division, so I wouldn’t be taking them lightly.”

 

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