IN PROFILE: LUKE BYRNE

Bohemianfc.com’s ROBERT O’REARDON spent the day with Luke Byrne and, in a comprehensive interview, the 19-year-old defender reveals how he came to join Bohemians, the hard work behind his rapid rise to the first team, his ongoing footballing education with Shaun Maher and Harry McCue at FÁS, and his hopes for the future.

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Produced by Peter O’Doherty (podproductions.ie).
Interview by Robert O’Reardon.
Intro by Ray O’Hanlon.

SAVED BY THE BELVO

Roberto Lopes has had major responsibilities thrust upon him at 20 in the centre of Bohemians’ defence. He is striving to repay the manager’s confidence in him, he tells BRIAN TRENCH.

When the history of Bohemians in this decade is written, the club’s recruitment from Belvedere in 2009 and 2010 may well be seen as a decisive moment. Several of those who moved from Belvo to Bohs at that time have become part of the senior squad’s core – Stephen Traynor, Keith Buckley and Roberto Lopes.

Lopes was just one season at Belvedere when he appeared in the shop window for Pat Fenlon and the coaches of Bohemians’ under-20 team. He had cut his teeth at Lourdes Celtic and had three years at Home Farm.

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At Bohemians, ‘Pico’ progressed rapidly, becoming captain of the under-20s while still 18. In that team, he enjoyed two highpoints of his still-short career, when he led Bohemians to an extra-time defeat of Shamrock Rovers in the Leinster Senior Cup in 2011, and was called up to the Republic of Ireland under-19 squad in the same year.

“We fielded a reserve side and Rovers had a really strong team. On paper we had no right to win the game. It was a very special moment.

“To be called up to the under-19 international team came as a shock. I was told to be on standby and I didn’t really think more about it. But, with people dropping out through injuries, I got a call and had to move quickly. It was a great experience to see how things are done at that level. Once you get the taste for it you want more.”

Lopes has made occasional appearances at left-back and in midfield but this season he has appeared consistently alongside Owen Heary or Stephen Paisley in the centre of defence, “my most comfortable position”.

In pre-season interviews, manager Aaron Callaghan expressed confidence that Lopes would make a major step-up in 2013. “I have to take it as a compliment that the manager gives me praise like that,” says Lopes. “But if he has that faith in me, I have to pay him back for it.”

Lopes believes Bohemians can no longer seek shelter in the view of Callaghan’s team as a young side. “That label is an easy way to make excuses for ourselves. There are other teams, like Cork, that are also young. We need to grow up fast and move forward as quickly as we can.”

He has “mixed feelings” about the team’s performance so far this season. “We have got off to a better start than last year and picked up more points but we have taken two bad defeats to Sligo and Derry, with bad performances.

“But we can feel ourselves growing and with the experience of those two defeats behind us, we can build again.”

Being often in the last line of defence before the goalkeeper, Lopes may be in the spotlight more than others when errors lead to goals. “There have been errors that have cost us games that we might have won, or nicked a point in. We do go over these things and analyse them. Talking about it is the main way to make sure they don’t happen again.”

Lopes believes Bohemians “can push very close” to a European place, a Setanta Cup spot or a cup trophy. He has tasted cup success already this year with Dublin Institute of Technology, where he is a second-year student of leisure management currently on placement in the college as a sports officer. Lopes’s extra-time goal put DIT into the final of the CUFL (Colleges and Universities Football League) Premier League, where they defeated DCU.

“I value the education I am getting very highly and the football is a bonus. I don’t take it as seriously as the league football but we got on well as a squad and it was a great feeling to become champions, especially when there were really good teams like UCD and Carlow IT in the competition.”

Lopes’ commitment to Bohemians is part of a family contribution. His younger brother, Jacques, is a full-back with the under-19 team, and his chef father, Carlos, prepares the Thursday evening meal that the players and coaches enjoy together at Dalymount Park.

Through his dad, Lopes is eligible to play for Cape Verde, a country of half-a-million people that has reached the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations this year. The national team includes players in the Portuguese league and other leading European leagues, while those who might have declared for Cape Verde but have chosen Portugal include Nani and Eliseu.

Whatever about future international honours and affiliations, Lopes expresses his ambition in football clearly: “I just want to play at the highest level I can. If I can make a career out of it, and if that means getting an opportunity to play in England, that would be brilliant. But I am realistic with my goals. I just want to be playing football.”

The next challenge for Lopes will be keeping his place in the team when Owen Heary returns from injury. “That’s another improvement this season. We have good competition for places across the team, with two players for nearly every position. It keeps people on their toes.

“Obviously, with me being the youngest it would be easy to say I would be the first out. But it’s not really like that. If you keep up the effort in training, you’ll get your opportunity and it’s up to you to keep it.”

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LIVIN’ LA VIDA LOPES

Roberto Lopes is relishing the opportunity that manager Aaron Callaghan has given him this season, writes FRANKIE LALLY.

The defender will be looking to cement his place in the heart of the Bohemians defence after the closed-season departures of last season’s twin towers Kevin Feely and Evan McMillan, who joined Charlton and Sligo Rovers respectively.

But Lopes – whose father Carlos hails from Cape Verde – insists he is not feeling any added pressure this year.

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Speaking at Thursday’s launch of Karmann Volkswagen’s sponsorship of Bohemians, Lopes explained: “I wouldn’t say I’m feeling the pressure but they are definitely big boots to fill.

“Personally I see it as a big opportunity so it’s up to me now to step up and take it. I’m happy to see the two lads who left doing well because we’re still good mates.”

Lopes signed for the Gypsies four years ago under Pat Fenlon after a successful schoolboy career with Dublin side Belvedere. He then made his debut in the FAI Cup semi-final defeat against Sligo Rovers in 2010.

The 20-year-old has come on leaps and bounds since and this season he is ready to announce himself as a first-team regular at Dalymount Park – and mark it with a trophy too.

“We’re very ambitious this year,”  added Lopes. “We want to try and win a cup and I think we have every right to be ambitious this year – we’re aiming to finish in the top four too.

“The label of being a young squad can’t hang around forever so we need to be ambitious and go out and try to win something.

“We’re looking really sharp and we’ve had a good pre-season under us. Last year the preparation wasn’t the best at the start of the season. We had too many players and the squad wasn’t settled, but this year we have a good squad together.”

One man who has been vital in Lopes’ career so far is veteran defender and Gypsies captain Owen Heary.

And Lopes reckons he is learning a lot from the 36-year-old seven-time League of Ireland winner.

“Owen is fantastic. He really helps me out, especially being a defender. He has so much information he can give me and we’re good mates too on and off the pitch.

“If I could do half as well as him in my career I’d be doing well.”

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A BOHEMIAN OF MANY PARTS

Former Bohemian player and club president Major General Emmet Dalton will be commemorated next Monday (4th March, 12 noon) at Glasnevin Cemetery, writes BRIAN TRENCH.

Monday marks the anniversary of both Dalton’s birth in 1898 and his death in 1978.

Dalton (pictured with Michael Collins) joined the Gypsies in 1919, after his demobilisation from the British Army, which he joined in 1915.

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He played with Bohemians for a season, while he also became active in the IRA. He was strongly associated with Michael Collins and joined the pro-Treaty forces, becoming a major-general in the National Army at the age of 24.

In 1924, while Dalton was Clerk of the Seanad, he was elected president of Bohemian FC. He later became a film producer.

Dalton lived in Drumcondra and Phibsboro and he will be the subject of a talk by Des Gunning during Phizzfest on 5th May.

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WITHOUT CHRIS, WE WOULDN’T HAVE A CLUB

Newly-elected Bohemian President Matt Devaney has paid tribute to the efforts of his predecessor Chris Brien in securing the club’s medium-term future.

At last week’s 124th Annual General Meeting of Bohemian FC, Brien (pictured with President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins) stepped aside after two seasons at the helm, having previously served a two-year stint as finance director.

While much work, fundraising and goodwill is still required to safeguard the club in the long-term, Brien played an enormous part in ensuring that we have the breathing space needed to face those challenges together.

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The devastating effect Ireland’s property crash had on the club’s finances is well-documented and Devaney acknowledges that if it wasn’t for Brien’s determination to tackle spending, negotiate with creditors and rally troops when the future looked ominous, a 123-year-old institution could have been lost.

Devaney said: “As I mentioned at last week’s AGM, all members and fans owe a huge debt to Chris Brien for his selfless, thankless work over the past few years.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to state that without him, we wouldn’t have a club – or at least the club as we know it.

“He mightn’t always get the recognition he deserves but the sacrifices he made over the recent past to ensure the club survived have been incredible.

“They have not gone unnoticed by those of us who have worked closely with him during this time and I know it hasn’t gone unnoticed by the membership in general, who I hope are extremely appreciative of his efforts.

“He has epitomised the true meaning of a members-owned club and its volunteer ethos by listening to everyone’s opinion, rallying the fans when needed and at all times carrying himself with great dignity.

“I hope to carry on in much the same vein and while we still face great difficulties, the pathway has been cleared somewhat by Chris’ sterling work.”

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