“We’ve put a level of expectation on ourselves that we want to win every game”

SLIGO ROVERS v BOHEMIANS
SSE Airtricity League
Saturday April 6 2019, The Showgrounds, 7.45pm

Conor Levingston believes determination and a strong team bond is behind Bohemians’ encouraging start to the season.

With four wins, two draws and a defeat from their opening seven games, Keith Long’s young guns sit third – eight points off the top but with two games on hand on leaders Shamrock Rovers.

Along the way, James Talbot has kept five clean sheets in the league and the Gypsies have fielded experimental line-ups in the Leinster Senior Cup and EA Sports Cup, progressing in both.

It all bodes well for the season ahead. Nobody is getting carried away but Levingston revealed that rather than patting themselves on the back for their encouraging start, this Bohs side are driven by points they have left behind and a determination to push on further.

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The Gorey man said: “We’ve had a really positive start. In the games we’ve played so far we’ve gelled quickly. But we’ve had bumps in the road too so we’re not getting carried away. We’re disappointed to lose down in Cork City and drop points against Waterford and Derry too.

“We’ve put a level of expectation on ourselves that we want to win every game. We’re disappointed when we lose and when we drop points.”

Much was made of the close-knit bond in the Bohs dressing room in recent seasons. With the loss of some senior pros and some strong characters, maintaining that atmosphere was going to be a challenge.

But leadership from the top and new recruits’ willingness to learn in pre-season has brought this squad even closer.

Levingston said: “There is great talent in the group. The togetherness within the squad is strong too.

“A lot of that comes down to the good pre-season we had and the work that Keith and Trevor Croly put in with us. The sessions were intense, we crammed a lot into them and we learned a lot.

“We weren’t ran into the ground as you might be at some clubs. Our focus was on our ball work.”

Like many of Bohs’ young guns, 21-year-old Levingston is a player looking to push on once more having returned to Ireland after four years learning his trade in England.

Many of his team-mates are in a similar position. Levingston joined from Wolves, Talbot returned to football after taking the guts of a year out having returned to Finglas after three years with Sunderland, James Finnerty returned to Skryne via Rochdale from Aston Villa, Danny Mandroiu to Ballymun from Brighton, Luke Wade-Slater to Dunshaughlin from Stevenage.

The difference in expectation and physicality between playing U23s development football in England compared to the demanding nature of League of Ireland football was a source of concern highlighted in pre-season.

Both Long and captain Derek Pender pleaded for patience as players would need time to adapt. But seven games in, it is a case of so far, so good.

Levingston said:”It’s my first experience of men’s football as it is for a lot of the lads. It is a big step up with a lot at stake. You have to be first to every ball and to every second ball.

“With so many young lads, it was a case or sink or swim for us all. Detser (Derek Pender) is our captain and he shows you tough love!

“He’s been around the block and knows the league inside out. If you’re not doing your job, he will let you know.

“I’ve learnt so much from him and so much from Bucko (Keith Buckley) too. It’s been a very welcoming dressing room.

“The lads already at the club said at the start that it was the best dressing room group they’ve ever had, so we were encouraged from the start.”
Bohs vice-captain Keith Buckley celebrates his winner v St Pat’s with team-mates Kevin Devaney and Rob Cornwall. Photo: Stephen Burke

Another factor in Bohs’ positive start has been the competition for places all over the pitch and with eight fixtures in April, the strength in depth of the squad is likely to be tested.

The first of those eight games took place on Monday as Bohs came from behind to beat Cabinteely 2-1 in the EA Sports Cup at Dalymount Park.

Bohs started sluggishly. But with 11 changes from the team that took to the field in last Friday’s 1-0 derby win against St Patrick’s Athletic, it was always going to take time to gel.

A much-improved second-half performance saw Bohs progress and Levingston admits players are looking over their shoulders with a queue of team-mates ready and willing to take their place in the starting line-up – especially in a congested month of fixtures where durability and tiredness will come into play more than ever.

Levingston added: “It’s important to have strength in depth. Training has been really competitive. The players not playing, none of them are sulking.

“They’re pushing everyone in training every night. Training is so competitive, which is a testament to the attitude of the players who are unlucky not to have been playing.

“There are lads bursting to play. You know if you’ve a bad game that there are lads who will jump at the chance to take your spot. You need that as a team if you want to be successful.”

Against Sligo, Bohs face a team eighth in the table who will be disappointed with their start to the season and determined to make amends.

Levingston added: “It’s a competitive league and there are no easy games. It’s my first time to play there obviously but the lads say it’s a hard place to go.

“But we’ll go down with a good attitude determined to get three points.”

TEAM NEWS

Scott Allardice is a doubt having suffered a facial injury against Cabinteely. Cristian Magerusan (cruciate) remains out.

“We want the positivity around the club to continue”

BOHEMIANS v CABINTEELY
EA Sports Cup
Monday April 1, Dalymount Park, 7.45pm

Bohemians welcome Cabinteely to Dalymount Park tonight with boss Keith Long hoping a much-changed side can progress and build upon recent momentum.

Bohs’ positive start to the season sees them third in the league table – eight points off the top but with two games in hand.

Friday’s Dublin derby 1-0 win against St Patrick’s Athletic saw another bumper crowd at Dalymount Park and Long wants to keep the feelgood factor going.

He said: “We want the positivity around the club to continue and we want to keep building momentum.

“We have had a reasonable start to our league campaign – four wins, two draws and one defeat, keeping five clean sheets along the way.

“It’s still very early days. We want to build on that but we also have to be mindful that we have nine games between tonight and May 3.

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“That means we will have to mix things up a bit with our team selection. But we are in a position where we can trust the strength in depth of our squad.”

Fixture pile-ups have been a bone of contention for many league managers in recent seasons, no more so than Long whose part-time players perhaps feel the strain more than their full-time rivals.

But he is looking at tonight’s game in a positive light and as a chance for players on the fringes of the first team to prove their worth.

They did so the last time Long made wholesale changes to his line-up when Bohs beat Shelbourne 4-1 in the Leinster Senior Cup last month in a team that contained just one started from the side that drew with Derry in the league three days previously.

He said: “Despite the congestion, a game like this is actually probably a good one for us to have as it allows us to give much-needed games to lads who might feel a bit disappointed that they haven’t been involved as much as they would have liked to have been so far.

“It allows lads a chance to step up and remind us what they have to offer and it will be a reward for some our U19s, who have started their season very well once again, and a chance for them to get to experience first-team football too.”

Bohs last won this competition a decade ago with a 3-1 win over Waterford in the RSC. Having come so close to reaching an FAI Cup final last season, Long’s men would love to progress and bring silverware back to Dalymount once more.

He added: “It’s a competition we want to progress in and to win. It would be fantastic to go all the way.

“But it will be a much-changed team who aren’t used to playing with each other coming up against a side who have made a strong start to the season in the First Division, so I wouldn’t be taking them lightly.”

 

“WE’RE GOING DOWN WITH CONFIDENCE”

CORK CITY v BOHEMIANS
SSE Airtricity League
Friday March 15 2019, Turner’s Cross, 7.45pm
Match tickets

Keith Long believes Bohemians need to improve on last week’s performance if they want to come away from Turner’s Cross with a positive result.

Bohs maintained their unbeaten start to the season with a 1-1 draw at Dalymount Park against Derry City last Friday.

But the Gypsies felt it was two points dropped – despite coming from behind to earn a share of the spoils.

Manager Long said: “We were disappointed with the first half last week. I felt if we had taken the initiative a bit more, we could have gone on and won the game.

“We lacked energy and didn’t ask Derry enough questions. We didn’t do enough to impose ourselves on the game.”

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Former Bohemian Eoghan Stokes gave the Candystripes the lead from the spot but Bohs rallied well with James Finnerty’s first goal from the club getting them back on level terms and they were unlucky not to go on and seal all three points.

Long said: “We responded to the goal well and I have to credit the players for that. We came back very strong.”

Games against Cork City produced some memorable battles last year. Bohs humbled the then defending champions 4-2 in Dalymount Park in the league.

But the Leesiders got the last laugh – winning an FAI Cup semi-final replay in Turner’s Cross 2-1 after Bohs had victory snatched away with a controversial penalty decision in the original tie.

Long added: “This is a different challenge again. Cork will be up near the top of the table at the end of the season. They will come good.

“The profile of John Caulfield’s team has changed a bit, they’re a bit younger this season and they are still gelling.

“They had a brilliant win up in Finn Harps last week and going down to Turner’s Cross has traditionally been one of the toughest tasks in the league.

“They’ve a huge crowd who come out to support them.

“But we’re going there with confidence and we want to maintain our unbeaten start to the season.

“Hopefully we’ll have another good vocal away crowd – we did in Belfield and down in Waterford – as that can give us a big lift when you come out on to the pitch.”

TEAM NEWS

Keith Buckley (groin) returns but Dinny Corcoran (groin) remains a doubt. Michael Barker (hamstring) played 45 minutes in LSC on Monday and also comes back into contention. Kevin Devaney (knee) has returned to training but will not be risked. Aaron Barry unavailable against parent club.

“WE ARE STILL GELLING”

BOHEMIANS v DERRY CITY
Friday March 8 2019, Dalymount Park, 7.45pm

MATCH SPONSOR: The Phibsborough House
MATCHBALL SPONSOR: Sports Field Maintenance

Darragh Leahy believes Bohemians have found the right blend of youth and experience at the back this season.

Doubts were raised as to how Keith Long’s new-look side would cope with the loss of some key men.

With goalkeeper Shane Supple retiring and defensive trio Ian Morris, Dan Casey and Dan Byrne moving to pastures new, Long had to rebuild his back-line.

Finglas man James Talbot, 21, has got the nod between the sticks ahead of fellow new signing Niall Corbet so far and the former Sunderland youth keeper has rewarded Long’s faith in him by keeping four consecutive clean sheets – the first time a Bohs keeper has done so since Brian Murphy in 2009.

His performances thus far have seen him nominated for the February SSE Airtricity/Soccer Writers’ Association Player of the Month Award alongside team-mate Dinny Corcoran.

In front of Talbot, 35-year-old captain Derek Pender, who made his 200th appearance for the club against Waterford last week, is as usual leading by example at right-back but is being pushed all the way by the Bohs U19 captain Andy Lyons.

Beside Pender, Rob Cornwall looks to have rediscovered his form of 2017 alongside 20-year-old centre-back James Finnerty, formerly of Aston Villa, who joined during the closed season from Rochdale.

Leahy himself had a stop-start closed season due to the persistence of a hip injury that disrupted his involvement towards the end of last season. He has had a battle on his hands to keep his place at left-back ahead of fellow 20-year-old Paddy Kirk, a product of the Bohs U19s, who has shone when called upon to deputise in his place.

Leahy said: “The manager asked for patience at the start of the season and we are still gelling. But we’re four games unbeaten and long may it continue.

“It’s still very early days. We are only four games in so you have to be realistic. But we’re happy we’re still unbeaten and it was important to get points on the board.

“People are always going to ask questions when you lose players. But we’ve a good mix of youth and experience at the back with Detser (Pender) and Rob in there too.

“I was carrying an injury from last season and Paddy has come in and done well as well so we’ve competition for places there across defence and throughout the team, which is what you want.”

Leahy is a good example of what is required from a young player trying to adapt to the rigours of first-team football for the first time.

A product of Bohs’ partners at St Kevin’s, Leahy joined from Coventry City at the start of last season. He was thrown in at the deep end for his first-team debut against Shamrock Rovers on the opening night of the 2018 campaign aged just 19.

He went on to have a starring role for the Gypsies last term and made the PFAI Team of the Year as well as being included in Stephen Kenny’s first squad as Ireland U21 manager.

Many of Long’s first team are of similar age and inexperience this term with the likes of Talbot, Finnerty, Conor Levingston, Danny Madroiu and Luke Wade-Slater all players returning home after spells in England and experiencing League of Ireland football for the first time.

Leahy said: “It did take me a while to settle in. You can’t take this league for granted and that’s important for younger players coming into the league to realise.

“It’s a tough league and different to playing U23s in England but thankfully the new lads have come in and done well so far.”

Another packed-out home stand is expected when Derry City are welcomed to Dalymount Park tomorrow.

The Jodi Stand sold out for the previous two home games against Finn Harps and Shamrock Rovers and fans are being advised to buy tickets online – www.tickets.bohemians.ie - in advance or risk missing out.

Leahy added:  “The fans were right behind us last year and hopefully we can keep our form up and the crowds will stick with us.

“Derry are always a tough team to play against. We beat them twice last season but like us they have a lot of new players so the challenge will be a different one.

“We’re looking forward to it. The Jodi has been packed for our two home games we’ve had so far. The atmosphere around the place has been buzzing and we want that to continue.”

TEAM NEWS

The squad is likely to remain unchanged meaning Michael Barker (hamstring), Promise Omochere (ankle) and Cristian Magerusan (cruciate) remain out, while Kevin Devaney (knee) remains a doubt.

“We’ve got off to a good start but nobody is getting carried away”

WATERFORD v BOHEMIANS
SSE Airtricity League
The RSC, Friday March 1 2019, 7.45pm

Two points clear at the top of the table after predictions of a nervy start to the season, Bohemians can be pretty satisfied with how the new campaign has panned out so far.

Keith Long has given debuts to nine players and his new-look side appear to have settled quickly but nobody at Dalymount Park is getting carried away.

They have picked up the maximum nine points from the three games played so far with victories against Finn Harps, UCD and rivals Shamrock Rovers.

But six of those points came against two newly-promoted teams and the other three against a side who have taken just one point from Bohs in their last six league meetings.

Defender Paddy Kirk, 20, said: “Obviously there is always a bit of apprehension at the start of the season when you’ve so many new players as to how the team is going to settle.

“Keith asked for patience from supporters and they’ve been behind us in all three games but thankfully we’ve got off to a good start.

“We’re only three games in though so we’re realistic. Nobody is getting carried away. It’s important to keep your feet on the ground and focus on the next game and no further.”

On the bench for the season opener against Finn Harps, Kirk was one of two changes to the starting line-up for the second game against UCD.

He replaced Darragh Leahy at left-back, while a fellow product and captain of the Bohs U19s, Andy Lyons, replaced skipper Derek Pender at right-back.

In total, Bohs gave game-time to 10 players under the age of 21 that night as the two most youthful line-ups in the division (hat-tip: Will Clarke) went head to head.

With Leahy, included in the 2018 PFAI Team of the Year, his rival for the left-back berth, Kirk is determined to grab every opportunity he is given.

He shone in the win 2-0 win against UCD – his persistence down the left-hand side setting up Bohs’ second goal – and his development as a player by manager Keith Long was highlighted ahead of Monday’s game against Rovers.

He might have felt slightly hard-done-by to find himself on the bench for that game but Kirk is a realist and was once again composed when he came off the bench in Leahy’s place in the 1-0 win.

Kirk, who is studying communications in DCU as well as holding down part-time jobs in the catering department of Trinity College and working with foreign students at DCU, said: “Competition for places is healthy and we have competition all over the team.

“That drives you individually and collectively as a team. It’s always going to be tough for me competing with Darragh but I feel I’ve come on as a player. It’s pleasing to hear the manager say that too and I feel I am ready to play.

“It has been a big step-up from U19s but thanks to Keith, Trevor Croly and the likes of Derek Pender I think I’m improving. I am obviously still learning but the players we have and have had previously help you and make the step-up easier.

“The likes of Detser (Derek Pender), he’s not one to scream and shout but he’s captain for a reason. He leads by example and you watch and learn from that.”

His 30-minute appearance from the bench was Kirk’s first taste of a derby – and he relished it.

He said: “I’ve never got to play against Rovers – even at underage level – so I was delighted to have been a part of it.

“I’m happy with how I did and more importantly the result. It would be easy to let the occasion get to you so I’m glad I was able to contribute.”

Bohs travel to Waterford tomorrow to face a team that finished fourth last season – two places and 11 points ahead of the Gypsies.

Alan Reynolds’ side have one win and two defeats from their opening two games but as a side that took 10 points from Bohs last term, Kirk and Co know they will have to be at their level best to get a result.

He added: “We’ve done our homework on them as we do all teams. We’re going down in good form with three wins and three clean sheets. But they are a very good side.

“We’ve done well at the back so we want to continue to be solid there and build on that.

“All the lads who have come in have settled in so far and James Talbot has done very well since coming in as goalkeeper. He’s been like a young Supps (Shane Supple). Maybe it’s the GAA background… except he’s a bit mad!

“He has settled quickly and the fans have taken to him. He was at Sunderland for four years for a reason so he is obviously very talented and we have another excellent keeper in Niall Corbet so the pair of them are pushing each other all the time.”

TEAM NEWS

Michael Barker (hamstring), Promise Omochere (ankle) and Cristian Magerusan (cruciate) remain out. Kevin Devaney (knee) remains a doubt.

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