“At times it may get tough and we might need a little help over the line from our fans”

Ireland manager Mick McCarthy pictured with Ross Tierney, Craig Sexton, Dawson Devoy and Alex Kelly earlier today. Picture SPORTSFILE

UEFA YOUTH LEAGUE
Bohemians v PAOK
Wednesday October 2 2019, Dalymount Park, 7.30pm

Craig Sexton has called on Bohemians to make the most of home advantage on and off the pitch against PAOK in the first leg of their Uefa Youth League tie at Dalymount Park tomorrow.

Admission is free for all and Sexton is hoping that will help get the Dalymount Roar behind his side from the off and bring a positive result over to Thessalonica for the second leg in three weeks’ time.

Ireland manager Mick McCarthy took time out of his squad announcement press conference earlier today to wish Bohs good luck in the tournament – and Sexton is banking on that goodwill to be echoed from the Jodi Stand.

Sexton said: “We are going in with a positive mindset that we want to win the game. We’re not going in to contain them or to see how the game goes – we want to win it.

“We want to bring a positive result to Greece, so that means we can’t just sit back and see how things happen. We are at home so the onus is on us to win.”

PAOK, whose senior team have a strong European pedigree in recent years but lost both Champions League and Europe League play-off this season, have a superior pedigree in this competition.

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They progressed through two rounds of the Uefa Youth League last season – beating AEL Limassol and FC Minsk – before narrowly losing out 1-0 to Tottenham.

This is Bohs’ second successive year in the competition. In their debut season, they lost out out 4-2 on aggregate to Danes FC Midtjylland, but were up against a side with designs on winning the competition and who subsequently knocked out giants Roma and Manchester United before bowing out against eventual winners Porto.

It was a commendable effort by a Bohs side depleted due to the tournament’s complex and unfamiliar eligibility rules, something they have learned from this season.

Sexton said: “Preparations have been great this time around. They’ve been a lot better than last year.

“That’s not a negative towards how we prepared last year but they’ve run a lot smoother in terms of player availability. We are without three of our older guys – Marlon Marishta, Peter Adigun and Mikey O’Keane – but we found out a lot earlier who we’d have, so we’ve had a lot more time to prepare.”

When the draw was made last month, Sexton admitted he knew little about the opposition but he and his backroom team have been working hard gathering information since.

He said: “By hook or by crook, we’ve got information on them! We’ve had to beg, borrow and steal to get as much information as you can but we’ve managed to our hands on footage.

“We’ve done our homework. We’ve watched them. They’ve seven players who played for Greece against the Ireland U17s in the European Championships in Dublin over the summer too.

“That’s an indication of the level of player. That finished 1-1, Greece scored late on. They are a strong outfit.

“They played the likes of Spurs. They’ve played top quality opposition in this tournament already so that could be a challenge. They’re more used to this, perhaps more comfortable with it than some of our boys but that’s fine.

“But they are coming to Dalymount – they won’t be used to that! We need to take advantage of that.”

The level of support for Bohs’ second leg tie against FC Midtjylland last year gave Sexton’s side a noticeable lift.

Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, Bohs briefly led on away goals after Ali Reghba’s first-half penalty put them ahead on the night.

It was also something of a celebration and coming together of all the hard work that has gone on behind the scenes at youth level at Bohemians and through the club’s partnership with St Kevin’s Boys, with whom many of the current U19s have cut their cloth.

Sexton sad: “It was a massive plus for us having our players exposed to that environment with a big crowd behind them. The lads were really able to feed off the fans in what was a new experience for most of them.

“We need that again against PAOK. We need the place full, noisy and boisterous. We need that and more. At times it may get tough and we might need a little help over the line from our fans.”

The likes of Reghba and Andy Lyons made their mark in this tournament last year and with a first-team manager in Keith Long willing to give youth a chance, more will be looking to follow them and, most recently, Ross Tierney and Dawson Devoy, into his thoughts.

Sexton added: “This is a chance for them to showcase what they can do. They’re putting themselves on a stage. Instead of playing in Blanch IT they are playing, hopefully, at Dalymount Park in front of a couple of thousand people.

“As a group they get to show how good they are. A lot of them have been around the first team now which is a big help. They’ve seen big nights in Dalymount.

“Hopefully that will make them a bit more comfortable. A lot of them have experience from last year too which they can carry into this year. They shouldn’t be overawed. They might be but they shouldn’t be!”

WATCH: Alex Kelly, Ross Tierney and Dawson Devoy talk to FAI TV

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