“We want young players to look at Danny and think ‘I can do that’.”

Danny Grant by A Baldiemann

DUNDALK v BOHEMIANS
EA Sports Cup quarter-final
Tuesday May 8 2018, Oriel Park, 7.45pm

Injuries have limited Keith Long’s options for tonight’s EA Sports quarter-final against Dundalk at Oriel Park.

But the manager has urged those who are given their break in the Bohemians first team to seize the opportunity.

The EA Sports Cup has been a tried and tested platform for Long to introduce budding stars to first-team football.

Now in his fourth season with the club, Long and his backroom teams have proven themselves willing to nurture players with potential.

Most notably last season, midfielder Fuad Sule had to bide his time before being given a chance to shine in a game against Cabinteely in the competition.

His man-of-the-match performance in a 1-0 victory was enough to convince Long he was ready for the Premier Division.

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He went from strength to strength, becoming the first Bohemians player to win a SSE Airtricity Player of the Month Award in seven years before earning a closed season transfer to Barnet.

This year, Danny Grant has been the standout beneficiary of being tested in the EA Sports Cup.

He – alongside Ryan Graydon and Dylan Thornton – was one of three members of the Graham Lawlor’s U19 team who made their first-team debuts in the 5-1 win against Cabinteely in the first round.

In total, eight of the 14 players used in that game came through Bohs’ youth ranks. In the following round against UCD when Bohs came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 and win on penalties, it was seven from 14.

Grant, who joined the U19s from Leinster Senior League Bangor Celtic last summer, scored a long-range stunner in that win against Cabinteely in a performance that propelled him into the reckoning for league action.

The Leaving Cert student, 18, made his league debut off the bench against tonight’s opposition at the end of March and has come to prominence in crucial wins in the last month.

First, he set up the 99th-minute winner for Darragh Leahy in the 2-1 over Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght and on Saturday, he scored his first two league goals as the Gypsies claimed a crucial 2-0 victory away to Sligo Rovers.

The step-up from the U19s to the first team is a big one but Long has been delighted with Grant’s progress, which he hopes can provide inspiration for others.

He said: “Danny was rewarded for his performances for both the U19s and for the first team in the EA Sports Cup.

“He’s delivered for us now in big games and his two goals on Saturday were excellent finishes.

“We want young players to aspire to be in our first team and look at that and think ‘I can do that’.”

While the performances of young and fringe players in previous round has been lauded, it must be noted that they did come against First Division opposition in the form of Cabinteely and UCD.

Tonight is a whole lot different as they’re getting towards the business end of the competition and facing the holders.

Against Stephen Kenny, Bohs are up against a manager who has won this competition a record six times – four times with Derry City and twice with his current club.

There is a place in the semi-finals at stake so this is a game Long wants to win but with injuries mounting – Darragh Leahy the latest prominent addition to the absentee list – his options are limited and the odds stacked against his side.

He said: “Dundalk’s strength in depth is such that they will have a strong side regardless of what XI they put out.

“My hand is forced tonight because of how many players we have ruled out.

“Our squad is really stretched. We have no option but to mix it up like we have done in previous years and in previous rounds.

“But that will allow players come in and stake their claim. But coming up against players of that quality can be a valuable experience for the younger players who do feature.”

Against Sligo, Long was relieved to see his side put a halt to what had become a frustrating habit of conceding first, playing lovely football but often having no points to show for it.

They have played better in games this season and ended up with nothing on the board.

But on Saturday, they were resolute in defence when under pressure, claimed what was only their second clean sheet of the season, took the lead somewhat against the run of play before seeing the game out with a confident performance that yielded a deserved second goal.

Long added: “The first half, Sligo made it very difficult for us. They didn’t allow us to play.

“They were very direct in their approach and we were loaded with set play after set play in the box.

“But we improved after the break and once we got the goal, we looked comfortable and could have scored more so it was a pleasing result and performance.”

TEAM NEWS

Bohs suffered a blow when left-back Leahy was carried off on a stretcher in visible discomfort during Saturday’s 2-0 win against Sligo Rovers.

The club is awaiting scan results on his knee but it is feared that the 20-year-old could be ruled out for eight to 12 weeks.

16-year-old goalkeeper Jamie Cleary is included in the squad once more with Colin McCabe (shoulder), who had started both previous rounds of this competition, and Seán Bohan (international duty with Ireland U17s) unavailable.

Rob Cornwall (back), Derek Pender (calf) and Karl Moore (knee) remain out alongside long-term absentees Ryan Swan (cruciate) and Cristian Magerusan (metatarsal).

Dinny Corcoran (hip) and Dan Casey (calf) have minor niggles and will not be risked ahead of Friday’s league game against Bray Wanderers.

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