Preview: Stjarnan v Bohemians

SSE Airtricity / SWI Player of the Month Award for June 2021

EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE
First Qualifying Round First Leg
Stjarnan v Bohemians
Thursday July 8th 2021
Stjörnuvöllur, 8.45pm (Irish time)
Live stream on Spiideo.com for €10

Georgie Kelly fired his way to the top of the goalscoring charts to earn himself the SSE Airtricity Soccer Writers Ireland Player of the Month for June.

Now he wants to carry that momentum through to score his first European goal.

Keith Long’s side jetted off to Iceland this morning ahead of tomorrow’s first leg of their Europa Conference League qualifier against Stjarnan.

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And the beaming Kelly, who now has 12 goals to his name this season, could not hide his delight after those efforts were recognised.

The 24-year-old, who joined at the start of the season from Dundalk having spent 2020 on loan at St Patrick’s Athletic, said: “It means a lot. A little personal accolade to collect.

“But it’s correlated with how the team has been performing and the chances we are creating.

“As we improve throughout the season, we are creating more chances, scoring more goals and getting more results.

“It would be nice to get a European goal, I haven’t got one yet. So it would be a nice little bonus.

“We are all itching to go. We have been playing well recently so we are going over with a bit of confidence and really looking forward to the two legs.”

Kelly’s overall performances in the opening stages of the season were good – his link-up play and overall contribution did not get the credit he deserved – yet it took him a little longer than he had hoped to find his scoring boots.

He has really found his groove over the past two months though – netting a hat-trick against his former club Dundalk, four against Drogheda United, a winner in the Dublin derby against Shamrock Rovers and, most recently, the opener in the 3-2 win over St Patrick’s Athletic.

Kelly, from Tooban in Donegal, said: “It’s just about getting used to getting used to playing with new players. After a while, things begin to tick and the team kind of picks itself.

“It’s great playing with those five behind me. Ross Tierney in particular plays close to me. Having his legs behind me helps me a lot.

“Dawson Devoy is brilliant too for such a young player too. Who knows how far he can go or what heights he can reach?

“His performance against St Pat’s on Friday was probably one of his best of the season. He is a joy to play with and he is a Rolls Royce of a midfielder.”

Kelly played a bit-part role off the bench in Dundalk’s European qualifiers in 2018 and 2019 but this will be the first time he will be leading the line.

He said: “It is hard to compare. When you play in Europe the standards are all lifted and normally the games are more physical. Fitness and athleticism is all a step up but we will be well prepped.

“We are trying to work off momentum and I think we are still getting better. Because the team is so youthful, it is hard to know where we are at.

“Things can dip as we saw against Sligo. We are still learning and the season is only halfway gone. You can only judge us at the end of the season.”

Long, who had to contend with losing his three most attacking players last season – Andre Wright, Danny Grant and Kris Twardek – is equally delighted that Kelly’s efforts have been recognised.

Long said: “Georgie has got a lot of goals for us and was the natural choice across the league to be Player of the Month.

“I am delighted for him. He’s had highs and lows this year but we are delighted he has found his feet with us.

“He is playing with confidence, the team is playing with confidence. They’re creating lots of opportunities and Georgie’s been getting on the end of them.

“There have been some great team moves and team goals. Even at the start of the year, at the risk of repeating myself, Georgie was playing well. The goals validate some of those performances now.

“It took time for the team to gel. Our wide players are contributing now with assists to goals as are the boys in the middle of the park.”

And Long will be hoping that continues when his side take to the field at Stjörnuvöllur.

Bohs matched Hungarian side Fehérvár all the way in the Europa League last year before cruelly losing out on penalties following a 1-1 draw after extra time.

But the club’s previous excursion to Iceland nine years ago saw Bohs humbled by a second tier side Thor Akureyri. Despite taking the lead through Dave Scully, Aaron Callaghan’s side succumbed to a 5-1 defeat.

Captain Keith Buckley and Keith Ward are veterans of that trip, but Bohs on and off the pitch are in a much better place now.

Long and his backroom team have been busy since the draw was made doing as much homework on Stjarnan as possible.

Long said: “In the absence of being able to get to games, we have had to rely on video and one or two people on the ground who have been able to give us some information.

“The level of opposition is always going to be good in European competition. They are a big physical side, they are experienced.

“They have good technical players throughout and are a threat from set-pieces.

“We will have to perform to our very best, there’s no doubt about that to try to bring the tie alive back to the Aviva Stadium next week.

“It is something we have prepared for. We have had an eye on the opposition since the draw was made.

“Aaron Fitzsimons, our analyst, has done an unbelievable job pulling together all the clips and presentations for us. We have done as much due diligence on the opposition as we can but ultimately we have to go and perform.

“Stjarnan, albeit they have had an indifferent start to their season, we will have to put in a strong performance.

“Last year, against Fehervar, we played top quality opposition. Four of those players were in the Hungary squad for the Euros. One of them, Attila Fiola, scored against France.

“We are a different group this year though so we will have to adapt. We have some very young players in our squad but these are players that have played in the Uefa Youth League with the club, the likes of Ross Tierney and Dawson Devoy.

“We hope that those experiences and the experience of last year with the players who are still with us will stand to us. But we are in no doubt that the opposition are a good side.

“We have to make sure that our preparation has been as good as it can be. We want to give a good account of ourselves.

“It is a big challenge for us. On paper, we have a good chance of progression but Stjarnan will be feeling the very same way.

“We gave as good as we got. We scored some good goals and we deserved to win the game.

“That brings us into this week in a little bit of form and gives us that bit of confidence after we let ourselves down a little bit in Sligo last week.”

TEAM NEWS

Stephen Mallon (hip) a doubt and Promise Omochere (quad) misses out.

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