Preview: Shelbourne v Bohemians

Bohemians v Dundalk - SSE Airtricity Men's Premier Division

SSE Airtricity League Premier Division
Friday March 3 2023, Tolka Park, 7.45pm

Despite Bohemians’ positive start to the season, Declan Devine says there is still room for improvement.

Bohs top the table after two wins from two after 2-1 victories against both Cork City and Dundalk.

For Devine, however, the most pleasing aspect so far has been how quickly his team have gelled – on the pitch and in friendship too.

He said: “Our performances have been good but I still think there is a lot more in us. For a group that has only been together for 10 weeks, we have made great strides but we need to strive to get better still.

“It is still very much early days but this group has given us a hell of a lot on a daily basis.

“Their mental capacity to deal with the pressure of the opening two games – one on live TV and the other in front of a sold-out Dalymount against one of the top teams in the country – gives us confidence going into the next game.

“The quicker we gel as units and become harder to break down from front to back, the better.

“We have conceded late goals in our last two games and that is something we want to get out of our system. We have got to get back to keeping clean sheets.

“Obviously that has been difficult as some of the defenders we brought into the club only came in over the last few weeks – we were light in defence right through pre-season. That’s not an excuse but it is a fact. Our defence hasn’t played a lot together.

“For me, though, the most pleasing thing about this group so far is how they have all gelled – not just football-wise but friendship-wise. They have been fantastic together.

“There is an incredible togetherness there and a willingness from everybody to do each other’s work in difficult moments of games.

“Their mentality has grown as a group and we want to improve that further over the course of the season.

“Take Johnny Afolabi, for example, and the natural power and aggression that he plays with. Then you look at the quality throughout the squad – James Akintunde plays really well the first game, Declan McDaid plays in his place for the second game and scores.

“We have options, too. We have Kris Twardek flying in training. We have James McManus, who hasn’t played a minute in the two games so far, who is going to be a fantastic player for this club.

“The whole group is enjoying being in each other’s company and they are driving each other on in training every day. If we can take those training levels into matches, then I think we will be in a very good place.”

One man in particular that Devine beams with pride about is his skipper Keith Buckley.

Renowned for his displays in midfield for many a year, the 30-year-old has matched those performances at right-back in what is not his natural position.

Without a recognised right-back during pre-season, and with additions in other areas of defence not forthcoming until the 11th hour, there was understandable concern among supporters, already weary from witnessing a leaky back four last year, as to how Bohs’ rearguard would fare this season.

But in the two games so far, Buckley has looked at ease at right-back – a throwback to ever-reliable captains of recent decades, Derek Pender, Owen Heary and Tony O’Connor, who all skippered the team from that position.

Despite his standing as a long-standing fan favourite at Dalymount, Buckley has never been one to hog the limelight. He is certainly not one to seek compliments but Devine has plenty of them regardless.

Devine said: “I look at Keith Buckley and I get so much joy watching him play for this club.

“I see a real leader there – a real footballer who knows what it is about to play at the top level of Irish football.

“He has been so impressive in a position that would not be his natural position, and up against really good players too.

“He came up against Ryan O’Kane, then he picked up a yellow card just before Daniel Kelly came on for Dundalk and you’re thinking ‘this could be dangerous’ but his experience and knowledge of the game got him through that while also leading the team.

“That is a testament to himself, his mental strength and his willingness to do whatever it takes for the team.

“I go into games knowing that with Bucko in the team, we are in a good place.”

It was undoubtedly that kind of mentality that the club lacked last season, in particular against the most recent encounter against tomorrow’s opposition in September.

After a league campaign that fell flat and led to an agonising end to Keith Long’s dedicated eight years’ service to the club as manager, Bohs had a shot at redemption in the FAI Cup.

Already unbeaten against Shelbourne in the league last year with two wins and two draws, Bohs fans went into the FAI Cup quarter-final with hope, believing the season could be salvaged at Tolka Park.

Instead, they saw their team walloped 3-0 in a scoreline that did not even do justice to the home side’s dominance. Afterwards, Jordan Flores summed up the performance with one word: pathetic.

But as well as an overhaul in personnel since that game, there appears to have been an overhaul in character too.

That includes Flores. Despite being one of Bohs’ best performers last season, he has been like a new signing this term – playing with a fire in his belly that has seen him score in successive games, and look like he really enjoyed it too.

Devine said: “There are players here who played in that game who have really stepped up to the plate this season.

“And everyone who was here for that game last year needs to learn from that experience – the empty feeling of leaving the ground on such a big occasion with nothing.

“We have to have belief and quality on the ball, and play to the levels we are capable of playing.

“We have got to make sure that when we leave Tolka Park at 10.30pm on Friday night that we leave with no regrets.”

But Bohs know they are in for a tough game against a club who consider this fixture a grudge match.

Devine said: “Going into these games with confidence isn’t enough, we have to know we can push our performances up a level or two.

“It is going to be a very tough game. Shelbourne have been very unlucky in their opening two games. They were unfortunate not to beat Drogheda and they were unfortunate to lose to St Pat’s. They played really well in both games.

“We know the intensity of the game is going to be high and we know the expectation levels of both sets of supporters is going to be high.”


James Clarke (thigh) is a doubt but Jay Benn (concussion) will be available for selection for the first time since suffering a nasty clash of heads moments into his pre-season debut against Wexford.

Website by Simon Alcock