“We’ve stopped any talk of Europe among the players until after the final”

Bohs U19s celebrate victory v Derry City - A. Baldieman

ENDA McGUILL CUP FINAL
Tuesday September 4 2018, Richmond Park, 7.30pm
St Patrick’s Athletic v Bohemians
Admission: €5 and free for U16s

Tomorrow marks a big day for the Bohemians U19s.

First, Craig Sexton’s side will find out who they will play in the UEFA Youth League this season.

Then they travel to Richmond Park for the final of the Enda McGuill Cup at 7.30pm. Admission is €5 and free for U16s.

U19 league champions last year, Bohs qualified for the Europe by the skin of their teeth.

The UEFA Youth League format is split in two – the Champions League Path and Domestic Champions Path.

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The Gypsies needed all three of the remaining Champions League play-off games last Wednesday to go their way for Ireland to qualify through the Domestic Champions Path. Qualification was looking unlikely until Red Bull Salzburg squandered a 2-0 lead to lose out to Red Star Belgrade on away goals.

Former Bohemians goalkeeper Sexton said: “When we found out that we’d be in Europe, the first priority was to try keep the lads focused on tomorrow’s game.

“Obviously we were all absolutely delighted to qualify but we’ve stopped any talk of Europe among the players until after the final. But it’s great for the team and for the club as a whole too.

“Initially I thought we needed Red Bull Salzburg to win so I was cheering them on in the first half until I was put right! Thankfully the results just about went our way.”

Bohs will be in Group 2 of the Domestic Champions Path at tomorrow’s draw. That means they will play one of Chelsea (ENG), Anderlecht (BEL), FC Admira (AUT), Midtjylland (DEN), Elfsborg (SWE), Molde (NOR) or KR (ISL).

The draw takes place from 1pm Irish time. First round first and second legs are due to be played Wednesday October 3 and Wednesday October 24 respectively. The draw for the second round will also take place tomorrow.

Sexton said: “We don’t have a preference about who we’d like to play really.

“Obviously the likes of Chelsea would probably see a massive crowd in Dalymount but then from a team point of view, it would be good for the players to maybe take on a team from further afield and experience something different. But we’ve an open mind about whoever we face.”

Before Sexton and his players can start thinking of Europe, however, they’ve the short trip across town to face St Pat’s and with the Saints top of the Northern Division of the U19 league, they are expecting a tough challenge.

Sexton said: “We’ve only played St Pat’s once this season and they’ve beaten us, they’re six points ahead of us in the division and they’re at home. They will be favourites.

“When we played them at IT Blanchardstown in May, St Pat’s scored twice in the last seven minutes to win 3-1. It was a tight game up until then. We’ve had good battles with St Pat’s in recent seasons and I expect it will be another tight game tomorrow.

“It’s a final, a one-off game so anything can happen. We will be going there determined and focused.”

While silverware would be a welcome added bonus, Sexton is clear about what the objective is at this stage of player development.

The expansion of the national leagues to underage levels in recent seasons has seen League of Ireland clubs take an interest in developing players from a younger age than ever before.

Bohs’ efforts have been bolstered by joining forces with St Kevin’s Boys. They play under the joint umbrella of Bohs-SKB at U15 and U17 level so far and at U13 level in the near future, providing a clear player development pathway from youth level to senior level.

Sexton added: “For us, the priority is developing players to a level that they’re ready for Keith Long and the first team.

“We’ve had Danny Grant, Andy Lyons and Paddy Kirk all play for the first team in the league this season.

“We’ve others knocking on the door too – Steven Nolan, who made his first-team debut last season, and others like Promise Omochere too.

“We want to develop players the right way. Getting players to a good enough standard to play in the first team is our No 1 priority.

“This is the U19s’ third final in three seasons so far – the Shield in 2016, the league last year and now the Enda McGuill Cup – so we feel we have had a group that have developed a mindest and togetherness.

“They’ve done exceptionally well and the season doesn’t hinge on tomorrow’s game. They can be extremely proud of their efforts and results over the course of the year so far.

“There’s great belief within the squad, a determination to do well and to improve further.”

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