Derry City U19s v Bohemians U19s

Wednesday October 27 2021
Ryan McBride Stadium, 7.45pm
Exclusive live stream on LOITV


Craig Sexton believes the combination of tangible aspirations, trusting coaches, first-class training facilities and a high-performance atmosphere provides young players the perfect platform to develop and flourish at Bohemians.

While all eyes are on the first team reaching the FAI Cup final for the first 13 years, Bohemians are competing for silverware at underage level too.

Sexton was speaking as his Bohs U19 side travelled to the Brandywell ahead of this evening’s Enda McGuill Cup final against Derry City.

In July, both Sexton and Seán L’Estrange returned to the Bohemians U19 coaching set-up where they previously won the SSE Airtricity U19 League twice, won the Enda McGuill Cup, and competed in the UEFA Youth League in successive seasons.

They were joined in the set-up by 2009 Bohemians league-winning midfielder Paul Keegan and former Bohs goalkeeper Shane Supple.

Seán L’Estrange and Paul Keegan

Winning at underage level has never been the be-all and end-all for Sexton.

What motivates him is seeing players fulfil their potential and being the best that they can be in senior football – whether that be at Bohs, a lower level, or indeed a higher level overseas.

Sexton said: “We have had a lot of carrots over the last few years now. Keith Long has given players a lot of opportunities. Players have come through and played in European opposition at underage and first-team level.

“We’ve won U19 and U17 leagues and cups, and now we have top quality, high-performance training facilities. These are tangible, obtainable targets for young players coming through to strive towards.

“There are now examples all around them of players, not that much older than them, in the first team who have reaped the benefits of the trust placed in them and have seized opportunities afforded to them.

“We have seen in the European run in the summer and by reaching the FAI Cup final, that the first team is producing the goods with players who have come through the youth structures. It is clear that it doesn’t matter what age you are, Keith will play you if he feels you are ready and good enough.

Kian Moore and Shane Supple

“It is important that we enhance them as players when they come to us and show them that we have winners – people forget that Keith Buckley is a product of our underage systems too – in our dressing rooms, and help them along the way towards the recognition their ability and drive deserves, whatever that may be.

“As a club, in partnership with St Kevin’s, I believe we have a good package for players who want to develop and who want to play first-team football.”

Sexton watched on with great pride in July and August as three players – 21-year-old Andy Lyons, 20-year-old Ross Tierney and 19-year-old Dawson Devoy – who previously represented his U19 teams in the UEFA Youth League against PAOK as recently as 2019, had starring roles in Bohs’ 2-1 Europa Conference League win over the same club.

The trio have been regulars for Jim Crawford’s Ireland U21s this season too.

Sexton said: “Looking back, those three lads performed extremely well in those Youth League games and they were excellent once more for the first team at the Aviva.

“Andy has been knocking around the first team for a number of years, Ross and Dawson have been given a chance in the last couple of seasons and have now progressed this year to become mainstays in the team. It would be hard to drop them.

“They are three great lads too, which helps. They are good around the place, they work hard and they are humble. They really fit the profile of what we want a Bohs player to be.

Shinji Kagawa and Andy Lyons – Sportsfile

“They have settled into the first team really well over the past couple of seasons. I would like to think that a lot of that has to do with the environment at the club.

“From a youth perspective, the structure allows the transition to happen quickly and smoothly.

“That comes from the willingness of Keith and the first-team set-up to give players a chance as well as the environment from Bohs-SKB U14s, U15s, U17s, and up to the Bohs U19s, that eases that transition all the way through.

“The ties we played in the UEFA Youth League in 2018 and 2019, in Dalymount and away from home, were high-level games that stood players in good stead. But there is no crystal ball when it comes to youth development. You never know with certainty when and if players will break through.

“With Andy, Ross and Dawson, though, and others, they have been given their opportunities and they have taken them. That shows players in the Bohs-SKB system what can be achieved.”

It is not just those three either. Promise Omochere has come on leaps and bounds this season, and has been challenging for a regular first-team place for some time now.

And Jack Moylan, a notable performer and goalscorer for the Bohs first-team in pre-season, was Bohs’ goalscorer against PAOK in the UEFA Youth League at Dalyer in 2019. He showed what he is capable of in flashes when given his chance for the first team this season and last.

Jack Moylan nets against PAOK in the UEFA Youth League – Sportsfile

This season, in another step forward in his development, he went on loan to First Division side Wexford. The 19-year-old is excelling at Ferrycarrig Park, where he has shown a keen eye for goal.

Sexton said: “Jack was excellent for me during my time with the U19s before. He’s come through to the first team and has gone out on loan now to get some game-time where he is doing really, really well.”

Sexton, son of Bohemian stalwarts Gerry and Beth, returned to Dalymount where he was a fan since as long as he can remember, and where he played as a goalkeeper for our U20s and for our first team in 2011 in 2012.

The 29-year-old left the Bohs U19s ahead of the 2020 season to test himself in a first-team set-up, making the short trip to Tolka Park to become assistant manager to Ian Morris at Shelbourne. Former Bohs defender Morris previously acted as assistant manager to Sexton in the Bohs U19 set-up in 2018.

While Sexton’s season away from Dalymount Park ended in relegation, he does not regret taking the leap to first-team football, and believes the experience can only aid his progression as a coach.

He said: “To have an opportunity to be involved in a first team environment from an operational point of view was important. I learnt a lot personally. It was a challenging year, sure. First-team football is challenging in itself. But it was an unbelievable experience and I felt it was something I needed to do.

“It didn’t end too well, obviously, but I wouldn’t change my decision for the world. I had so many good experiences that I think will make me a better coach.”

In Sexton’s time away, Bohs have made further steps forward that will aid his return to the U19 set-up. He believes the club’s 18-season partnership with DCU, agreed at the start of the season, now adds to that package of attracting, developing and retaining quality young players.

Sexton said: “To get these facilities was a huge step forward for the club. I was in DCU as a player when we trained here as a full-time club, but they have improved so much since then. To now be back here coaching in such an environment is brilliant.

“We are talking about a real high performance environment – you’ve got the Dubs around you! You can smell the high performance culture around you. That is important, especially for young players. It creates good habits for them from an early age.

“The facilities are unbelievable. High-performance pitches, Astros, grass pitches, analysis rooms – everything is there for you as a player.”

Sexton returned to Bohemians with his efforts aided by the progression of some of last season’s Bohs-SKB U17s.

They comfortably won their league final against Shamrock Rovers under the stewardship of former Bohs captain Derek Pender, who has since assumed a new role of first-team player development coach.

Jamie Mullins became the club’s youngest-ever goalscorer in the League of Ireland

The quality of those coming through is already evident. The most obvious example is 16-year-old Jamie Mullins, who came through at St Kevin’s, and who scored on his full debut against Longford Town in the summer to become the club’s youngest-ever goalscorer in the League of Ireland, as well as sampling game-time in the Europa Conference League.

His fellow Bohs U19 team-mates – Robbie Mahon, Seán Grehan and Aaron Doran – have also all tasted first-team action in the summer too as they look to follow in the footsteps of Lyons, Tierney, Dawson and Co.

The most recent transition from underage football to the first team saw Ireland U17 midfielder James McManus named on the bench for Monday’s game against Waterford.

Sexton added: “It’s a new batch of players coming through every year. Our job is to keep driving players forward to bridge that gap between underage football and first-team football.

“A lot of our players have come through the system with our partners St Kevin’s and other systems before joining our underage League of Ireland teams.

“You are at Bohs and there is expectation on you to compete and I tell the players that. We don’t shirk away from those expectations.

“Keith has expectations, the fans have expectations. So if you are to progress to the first team, you have to be comfortable with expectation.

“Winning in youth football is not the be-all and end-all in underage football. It is definitely not the most important thing, but it should come as a bi-product of development and doing things right.”

Len O’Sullivan in action against Cork City

And tonight, they will look to do just that when they are hosted by Gerald Boyle’s Derry City U19s at the Ryan McBride Stadium.

Sexton has already experienced the highs and lows of the Enda McGuill final – beating St Patrick’s Athletic in 2018 and losing to Shamrock Rovers in 2019.

He added: “We are delighted to have reached the final, that in itself is a fantastic achievement for the players and all involved so far.

“As I mentioned, development isn’t always measured by trophies but it is important in terms of development to expose players to these types of games.

“The effort given by all involved has been excellent all season and the cup final is a reward for that so I am delighted for the players.

“The season has gone well so far with still a couple of games to go, we are still within a shout of the league as well.

“A special mention needs to be made for the U19 staff for the unbelievable work throughout the season so far – Seán L’Estrange, Paul Keegan, Shane Supple, Stephen Lawless, Cian Hayden and Jamie Hanley.”

Photographs: Stephen Burke

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Enda Minogue rises high against Shamrock Rovers

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