“You want to repay the faith shown to you”

Bohemians v UCD - SSE Airtricity League Premier Division

ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC v BOHEMIANS
SSE Airtricity League
Richmond Park, Friday May 17 2019, 7.45pm

Andy Lyons has made a habit of making the most of being thrown in at the deep end and is hoping to do so once more if afforded another opportunity when Bohemians make the short trip to face St Patrick’s Athletic in Inchicore tonight.

It was this very fixture at Richmond Park in September last that made people sit up and notice the quality of young players being brought through at Bohs.

Manager Keith Long surprised everyone by making 11 changes, giving debuts to three teenagers from the start and another from the bench.

The selection may have appeared a bit out of left field. But, with an FAI Cup semi-final coming up the following weekend and a growing trust in the abilities of players coming through at the club, Long felt the changes prudent.

The club’s successes at U19 level and below had earned plaudits, yet doubts remained as to whether those coming through could make the step-up and cope with the demands involved in first-team League of Ireland football.

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Those doubts came from the outside – Long trusted his instincts and those of his backroom staff. He had no fear giving young players an opportunity he felt their efforts deserved. While many lacked experience, he trusted their ability to adapt.

That trust was vindicated. It was sink or swim, but worth the risk. Yet just how quickly most adapted came as a surprise to most – probably even to Long, although he is unlikely to admit it.

Lyons was one of those young guns who stood up to be counted. He had already been blooded in games in the Leinster Senior and EA Sports cups, making his league debut off the bench against Derry in April.

He followed that up by deputising in place of injured skipper Derek Pender in subsequent games, delivering performances a seasoned pro would have been proud of.

And, a month after turning 18 and just as he embarked on his Leaving Cert year, he continued to belie his inexperience when he was one of those 11 men brought in and tasked with making the most of the opportunity afforded them.

Things looked ominous when the Gypsies conceded after just three minutes, but the maturity of their response made victory all the sweeter as a brace from teenager Ali Reghba – with a goal from Robbie McCourt sandwiched in between – giving Bohs a perhaps unexpected victory.

But the 3-1 win – and the manner of it – didn’t come just arrive from nowhere.

It was several seasons in the making between work at U19 and U17 levels driven towards a collective goal coupled with the budding partnership with St Kevin’s beginning to bear fruits.

Taking time out from his Leaving Cert studies, Lyons said: “The club has shown that if you work hard, you will get your chance. I think we’ve the best youth system in the country.

“Every young player should want to come to Bohs. The management make you believe in yourself and you want to repay the faith shown to you.

“You are made feel part of a family and if you’re good enough, you will be given an opportunity.”

Lyons is well-placed to pass comment. Earmarked by Long as one for the future when he watched him lining out for St Joseph’s Boys, Lyons then came through the ranks at Bohs’ U17s and U19s.

At U19 level, he was captain as Craig Sexton’s side won the league last season to make it two-in-a-row for the club at that level.

They also won the Enda McGuill Cup to make it a double as well as proudly representing Ireland in the Uefa Youth League where they narrowly lost out to FC Midtjylland.

He has since, alongside Reghba, helped the Ireland U19s qualify for the European Championships and will be expecting to be on the plane to Armenia with them in July.

Lyons said: “Keith Long picked me up watching me at U15s or U16s. I’m a big Joey’s man, as was Keith Long.

“I came through with Jimmy Mowlds’ U17s and then with the 19s. You are learning all the time and are being pushed all the time but are made feel part of the family.”

Earlier this season, Long sighted Lyons and fellow full-back and fellow former Bohs U19 captain Paddy Kirk as perfect examples of what the club wants from players coming through at youth level.

He said: “They understand what it is to be a Bohs player. They have an affinity with the club and they know what it means to play for the club. That’s the class of player we want.

“Andy wants to play more games. He’s behind our club captain Derek Pender but is pushing for more regular starts. Paddy is the same. Paddy is absolutely breathing down the neck of Darragh.”

Lyons’ confidence is evident but he is also too humble to talk himself up too much.

He does, however, echo the sentiment of knowing what it means to play for the club and that sense of belonging, despite having to bide his time when it comes to first-team opportunities.

He said: “It’s become a second home for me. It’s my second family.”

Such affinity might not have come so easily in previous times.

But one of the net results of the restructuring of youth football and the extension of League of Ireland football to U19, U17, U15 and, most recently – and less popularly – to U13 level, is the chance of players developing a long-standing relationship with a League of Ireland club in a way that would not have happened before.

While his own past and loyalties mean he will always be a Joey’s man, Lyons came to the club at a young age and has already seen the potential of Bohs’ partnership with Kevin’s and believes it can only get better.

He said: “I’ve been at the club a few years now so know what it means. That relationship from schoolboy right to first team could be huge.”

That relationship was already there. It was just a matter of joining up the dots.

In the first team, you have Darragh Leahy, Danny Mandroiu, Robbie McCourt and Luke Wade-Slater, who were all at St Kevin’s before being reunited at Bohs having returned home from spells in England.

At coaching level too, the intertwined crossover in affinities are too plentiful to mention.

Lyons said: “The structures are such that you could have players at the club together for four or five years together before they even get to the first team.

“That could be huge and will make it feel even more like a family.”

Making the step-up from underage level to senior is another story though. Not all will make it, but they will be afforded the opportunity to do so.

Helping them along the way are senior pros, the likes of captain Derek Pender and vice-captain Keith Buckley.

Having come on for his captain seven minutes into last week’s 2-0 defeat to Dundalk, Lyons will be aiming to retain his place. But getting selected ahead of a man he looks up to and respects will never be easy.

“Detser” is regularly held up as an example by younger players as someone who inspires them and helps them along the way.

James Talbot’s interviews this week being a case in point. Winning the SSE Airtricity/Soccer Writers’ Association Player of the Month Award, the 22-year-old said: “You look at Derek Pender. I saw a video of Detser before the Shamrock Rovers game in the huddle, and you could see what it means to him.

“They’re the sort of people you want to be playing with. I’d go to war with Detser. If he dropped there, I’d jump on him, I’d do anything for him.”

But part of Detser’s leadership qualities is his amusing ability of bringing young players with notions back down to earth.
Lyons’ standing as a pupil at Blackrock College and a rugby fan makes him a natural target for slagging in a football dressing room, especially from a no-nonsense captain born and reared in inner-city Dublin.

That was the case once again this week when Blackrock College tweeted a photo of Lyons being presented with a sports day award by Ireland and Leinster star Garry Ringrose, a notable alumni of the prestigious school.

Lyons laughs: “I get a bit of stick! I got an award… but I wasn’t telling anyone at Bohs about it!

“But it went up on twitter. I came to training Detser was just looking at me, staring at me. I knew I was about to get a slagging. I walked in and he was like “who was that lad in the photo? He didn’t know who the No 13 for Ireland was!

“I’m always getting slagged for liking rugby. It’s all good fun. Detser was giving me a lift but he threatened to make me get the bus!”

Like his captain, Lyons enjoys a laugh but also like a captain, he is ultimately a serious and driven personality.

He would have to be when juggling being a senior footballer with studying for his Leaving Cert.

That kicks off in two and a half weeks’ time. Lyons is studying eight subjects – English, Irish, maths, biology, Spanish, geography, home economics and business studies.

He admits combing both his sporting ambitions with his educational ones is a challenge.

But it’s one he relishes, adding: “It’s hard enough. You’ve got three nights’ training, a match and then a recovery session at the weekend.

“But I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It breaks up the day and I manage it okay.”

And what to next when the results come in?

He added: “I want to go to college, maybe DCU. I’m looking at courses in business and sport management, that line of things… but we’ll see!”

TEAM NEWS

This game will come too soon for Rob Cornwall (Achilles), Conor Levingston (foot) and Danny Grant (knee). Keith Ward (foot) is a doubt. Cristian Magerusan (cruciate) remains out.

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