“We are feeling positive and are looking forward to it”

BOHEMIANS v SLIGO ROVERS
SSE Airtricity League, Dalymount Park, Friday 11 March 2016, 7.45pm

Keith Long has urged Bohemians to show more quality on the ball as they aim for victory in their first home league game of the season.

Bohs and Sligo Rovers tasted defeat in their league openers last weekend, so both sides will be determined to get points on the board when they go head-to-head on Friday night.

Long said: “We don’t have to pick them up after last week – that comes from within. The team are feeling positive and are looking forward to it.

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“It’s been a long off-season and it’s our first home game. Supporters have been waiting for Friday night football at Dalymount Park for months now.

“We will be doing our level best to win and give them a good performance.”

Second-half defensive errors saw the Gypsies succumb to a 2-0 loss away to Cork City last Friday.

But there were plenty of positives to take from the game too, with Long’s men on top in the opening half against a side who have finished runners-up for the past two seasons.

Long said: “We went down with a game-plan that worked to a point. We had been good defensively and played a lot of the game in Cork’s half.

“There wasn’t a lot in it, but we were slow coming out in the second half and it was a bad first goal to concede – a basic error.

“We didn’t recover from it. To concede again ten minutes later meant the game-plan went out the window.”

Long admits Bohs are still a work in progress and has identified areas where he believes they need to improve.

He said: “As well as trying to reproduce the level of our first-half performance from last week, we also want to add to that a bit more quality when we’re on the ball.

“But we know we’re not the finished article yet. We are still integrating new signings and we’re looking to improve.”

Another man looking to integrate new players will be Long’s opposite number tomorrow, new Sligo Rovers manager Dave Robertson.

The former Peterborough United boss handed debuts to eight of his starting XI in Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Shamrock Rovers at the Showgrounds.

Long added: “With so many new players having signed from England, Sligo are something of an unknown quantity this season.

“We went to watch them on Saturday and were somewhat unlucky to lose by two goals having had two players sent off.

“They’ve good players and played well, but we have identified areas we hope to exploit too.”

Bohs have no injury concerns going into the game with Roberto Lopes, who serves a one-match ban after being sent off against Cork, the only absentee.

“EMBRACE THE OCCASION”

CORK CITY v BOHEMIANS
SSE Airtricity League, Turner’s Cross, Friday March 4 2016, 7.45pm

Bohemians kick off the 2016 season away to Cork City on Friday with manager Keith Long telling his players: “Embrace the occasion.”

A near-capacity crowd is expected at Turner’s Cross for the pick of the opening-day fixtures, which is also being broadcast on RTÉ 2.

Long said: “The players need no motivation going into this. It’s been a long off-season, so we’re really looking forward to it now.

“There will be a big, partisan crowd. But that’s what you want. Players want to play in front of full stadiums, in front of a vocal and intimidating atmosphere.

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“We know it’s going to be a big challenge. It’s up to our players to rise to that and to enjoy the occasion. They need to embrace it and not be afraid to express themselves.”

Having been eclipsed by Dundalk for the league title two years in a row and again in last season’s FAI Cup final, there is expectation on Leeside.

John Caulfield’s side laid down a marker with a 2-0 President’s Cup win against Stephen Kenny’s Lilywhites last Saturday.

Long said: “Cork have been impressive in pre-season and the performance last week against Dundalk will be the barometer for them.

“But we can’t worry too much about Cork, we need to concentrate on our own performance.”

Exceeding expectations with a fifth-placed finish last year, the Gypsies’ form has gathered momentum again in recent weeks.

Having stuttered early in pre-season, Bohs come into this game on the back of two strong results: a 3-0 Leinster Senior Cup win away to Drogheda United and, most recently, a 4-1 friendly victory at home to Athlone Town last Saturday.

Long added: “Pre-season performances were mixed but the most important thing is that players are finding their feet now.”

Among those “finding their feet” are three new additions to the first team, strikers Kurtis Byrne and Mark Quigley, and midfielder Aymen Ben Mohamed, who signed from Dundalk, Derry City and Longford Town respectively.

Long added: “Kurtis has looked sharp. He will be a great addition to the team both in terms of goals and assists.

“Mark brings invaluable experience. As well as having great quality, he has matured and really wants to do well. He has the ability – and the guile and nous – to open up opposition teams.

“Aymen is a very technical player. He’ll have fans on the edge of their seats. They all add to what was already a good group of players who can’t wait to get started.”

Bohs have a full team to squad to select from and bolstering Long’s options is 38-year-old defender/midfielder Dave Mulcahy, who this week re-signed for a fifth season at the club.

“We expect a partisan atmosphere”

BOHEMIANS v CORK CITY
SSE Airtricity League, Dalymount Park, Friday 30 October, 7.45pm

Bohemians have beaten the odds to bring the battle for Europa League qualification down to the last game of the season.

With a run of four draws, then three wins, Bohemians’ players “have shown exceptional character and I’m immensely proud of them,” said manager Keith Long. “With a fighting chance of European qualification they will leave nothing behind to ensure we get the right result.”

But they know the final outcome is partly out of their hands. “We have no control over what happens in Galway,” said Long. St Patrick’s Athletic go there in need of just one point to secure that European place.

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“It’s fantastic to have something at stake coming into the last game. Hopefully we’ll have a packed Dalymount Park getting behind the lads. It will be a great occasion and one the players’ efforts richly deserve.”

This occasion will also be reward for the fans, Long said. “The supporters have been magnificent for us all year. They appreciate the virtues the players have brought to the jersey. We expect a partisan atmosphere in Dalymount and I’m sure the fans will come out in big numbers and lift us to greater heights.”

But Cork City will not be mere spectators in a Bohemian spectacle. “They will be looking to cement second place,” Long insisted. “Their players will also be looking to get into the starting line-up for the FAI Cup final. So, they have everything to play for.”

Bohs have not forgotten that their heaviest defeat of the season was a 4-0 drubbing in Turner’s Cross at the end of July.

Recent three-pointers have been hard-won, at home against St Patrick’s Athletic and on the road in Sligo and Derry. At the Brandywell, after an open first-half, with five goals shared, Bohemians “had to be gritty in the second half and we defended better as a unit. Dean [Delany] again pulled off some vital saves”.

A first-half pair of goals from Ismahil Akinade was crucial in the victory. The 21-year-old striker brought his tally in the league to ten goals from 17 games, since he joined Bohemians in June. Last week, he was short-listed for the PFAI Young Player of the Year award, having played only part of the season.

“Izzy has been exceptional for us. He works extremely hard. He’s got pace and power. He’s got that pure physicality that defenders do not like and he’s been adding the finishing touch to his game,” Long said.

”He has been improving with us, playing with better players and getting better service. He has repaid the faith the club has shown in him. He is a big part of why we are in the position we are in now.”

Bohemians have defenders Lorcan Fitzgerald and Stephen Best back from injury, and captain Roberto Lopes returns from suspension. Only long-term injuries Derek Pender and Marc Griffin are missing for this final game.

“The lads are chomping at the bit. They realise we have a great opportunity,” said Long. “Hopefully we’ll be able to grasp it and secure the three points and Lady Luck smiles on us in Galway.”

“Our job is to make them believe they can achieve”

DERRY CITY v BOHEMIANS
SSE Airtricity League, Brandywell, Friday 23 October, 7.45pm

Bohemians go the Brandywell where sixth host fifth who are in pursuit of fourth. The “outside chance” of qualifying for Europe is helping to drive on Bohemians, according to manager Keith Long.

But he gives “huge credit” to the players and compliments “good characters” in the dressing room for maintaining a strong team spirit right to the end of the season.

“We have tried to create an environment where there are no excuses and the players have bought into that,” said Long.

“They take ownership of their performances and of their training. It comes down to their application and attitude. Our job is to make them believe they can achieve, and we have done that for most of the season.”

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“We’re going into the game against Derry with an outside chance of getting into Europe, and most fair-minded people would have accepted that [for Bohemians] at the start of the season. Still, doing OK is not good enough for a club like Bohemians and we want to continue to improve. “

Derry are just one place, but 15 points, behind Bohemians in the league table. They have strengthened their side since the summer and are on a good run.

“Anyone who thinks we are going up to Derry for an easy game is mistaken,” said Long. “We beat them 4-2 in Dalymount in one of the strangest games of the year. After we scored four goals in ten minutes Derry dominated the game.

“They are in flying form and they have secured their Premier Division status. So, they will play with an element of freedom,” said Long.

“I expect a good game. I expect both teams to go for it, and the players to go out and express themselves. But it will be a difficult game. It’s never easy up in Derry.”

Bohemians go there unbeaten in six league games and having kept a clean sheet in the last two. “From a defensive point of view we can’t ask for more,” said Long. “Dean [Delany] has been consistent, as he has been throughout the season, and he has pulled off important saves at critical times.

“In the absence of Lorcan Fitzgerald, Derek Prendergast and Stephen Best in the back four, Dave Mulcahy has had to slot back in there alongside Anto Murphy and these guys have huge experience, and they have been excellent.”

For Friday, Derek Prendergast and James O’Brien return from injury but Lorcan Fitzgerald remains out and Roberto Lopes is suspended. Stephen Best is recovering but he is unlikely to be available this weekend, though he may return for the final game of the season.

“Our lads don’t need any extra motivation”

SLIGO ROVERS v BOHEMIANS
SSE Airtricity League, Showgrounds, Saturday 17 October, 7.45pm

Unbeaten in five league games, Bohemians go in search of maximum points in Sligo as they continue to chase down fourth-placed St Patrick’s Athletic.

Last week Bohemians closed the gap with a 2-0 win over St Pat’s in Dalymount, though manager Keith Long believes the winning margin could and should have been bigger.

“We butchered a number of chances, particularly late in the game when they were down to ten men. We were worth the win but with a bit more care with our final pass, we could have scored another couple of goals.”

Long is confident that his players will not suffer any late-season fatigue. “I don’t fear that with the group of players we have. They want to finish the season as strongly as they can.

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“Our lads don’t need any extra motivation at this point. They want to get a win on Saturday. We have to make sure we’re ready and our lads will embrace that challenge.”

Sligo Rovers are 19 points behind Bohemians but manager Mickey Adams has steadied the ship and in the ten league games since they were beaten 1-0 in Dalymount Park, Sligo have accumulated just one point less than Bohemians.

“Sligo is a tough place to go. They have a squad full of quality and they have three games to maintain their Premier Division status. They will set about doing that on Saturday,” said Long.

“They will see this home fixture as one they absolutely have to win and we have to go up there and make sure we are ready for everything they throw at us.”

Paddy Kavanagh and Jason Caffrey return for selection, having been ill last week, but defenders Stephen Best (thigh), Derek Prendergast (calf) and now Lorcan Fitzgerald (groin) are all likely to miss out. Midfielder James O’Brien (ankle) has returned to training and may be available.

The additional training session on Friday will be an opportunity to confirm the fitness of the players fighting to recover. But even with possibly three first-choice defenders missing, Long is unlikely to risk starting Dan Byrne, who returned to action last week.

Byrne came on as a late sub against St Patrick’s, making only his second appearance this season after a long lay-off and an interrupted recovery. “We hope to give Dan more game-time this season but we have to be careful and not overload him. He is dedicated to getting himself completely right for the next season,” said Long.
Up front, manager Long has widened his choices, giving 19-year-old Aaron Ashe a brief appearance off the bench last weekend. Ashe joined Bohemians at the start of the year and has been a regular goal-scorer for the under-19s, netting a hat-trick against Longford Town last month. He has been training with the first team for several months.

“He’s a young lad with a lot to learn but he works extremely hard at his game and we hope he can make the step up next season and continue to develop with us,” said Long.

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