Friday 27 January 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Ryan Byrne/INPHO Bohemians' Keith Ward and Aaron Barry (right) celebrate a goal.
# Dedication
'We probably train as much as any full-time team'
Aaron Barry reflects on Bohemians’ impressive start to the season.

AT THE START of the season, the outlook for Bohemians did not seem especially positive.

Important players such as Ian Morris and Dan Casey left the club, while a number of young, inexperienced players were brought into the side.

Whether they could replicate last season’s sixth-place finish, which included a remarkable set of wins against rivals Shamrock Rovers, appeared doubtful.

Yet on the evidence of their 2019 campaign so far, the Dublin club, if anything, look stronger than before.

Manager Keith Long, who signed a new three-year contract with the club last October and has dismissed speculation linking him with the vacant Cork job in recent days, has guided his side to third place as it stands.

The Gypsies sit just a point behind reigning champions Dundalk, who they host on Friday night, and are four adrift of leaders Shamrock Rovers.

The two teams ahead of them are spoken of as title contenders, whereas not many critics would consider Bohs as being equipped to challenge for the league.

All they can do, however, is continue to defy doubters, and a win tomorrow would be another big statement in what has been a hugely encouraging start to the season.

One player who has been important in this run is Aaron Barry. At 26, the centre-back is one of the more experienced members of the squad. He played with Arklow Town at underage level and joined Sheffield United as a teenager, before coming home.

In the League of Ireland, after impressing in four seasons with Derry, the Wicklow native joined Cork City ahead of the 2018 campaign.

Last February, however, he signed on loan with Bohs, after being frustrated with a lack of game time at Turner’s Cross.

“Aaron came in last year and was involved in squad for every game, whether on the bench or starting,” then-Cork boss John Caulfield said, after the move was announced.

He’s a great guy, trained really well and is great to have around the place. He obviously lost his place in the middle of last year, and he felt that he wasn’t going to be a regular and he needed game time.

“This move is good for Aaron, it’s good for Bohs and it’s good for us. Part of me wanted him to stay around but, from his point of view, he needs to be playing and we needed to make sure we looked after him the best way possible.”

Speaking on the switch, Barry adds: “I thought Cork was a good place to win trophies. We didn’t win a trophy, but it was a good enough season. When I look back on it, I would have played about 30 games, but I wouldn’t have played the most important ones. So personally, I wasn’t satisfied with it.”

The move has seemingly worked out better for the player than his parent club, with Bohs currently five places ahead of the Leesiders in the table.

Despite their excellent form though, Barry insists the side will not be getting complacent, suggesting they are currently punching above their weight to a degree.

With Dundalk and Rovers, both teams are cut out to challenge for the league this year. They have massive budgets and the players they have reflect that as well.

“The signings Rovers made were two high-profile guys [Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff] and Dundalk as well, they brought in quality — players from the Championship and stuff like that.

“From our point of view, the signings were mostly young guys who have probably never played a senior game before. It shows the difference of where the clubs are at in terms of finance.

“Whatever our targets are, they’ll stay in house and we’ll wait until later in the season until we get a clearer picture on where we’re at.”

While Bohs are a part-time team, Barry credits the club’s professional ethos as being key to their progress.

“We probably train as much as any full-time team, it’s just that it’s in the evenings. It allows guys to work. I’d say 90% of the team are working or in college. 

The guys at this club are as professional as any club in the league and that’s a credit to Keith and the backroom staff and the professionalism that they’ve built within the squad. That goes from the top down. Derek Pender, the captain, he works a day job and his levels of professionalism are truly high. He sets the tone and everyone just follows suit. It’s a good, professional environment.

“Keith and Trevor [Croly], everything they do is really professional. Every gameplan and the analysis of every team is detailed. From our own point of view, the way the team play — everyone knows their jobs, roles and responsibilities really well.

“Everyone’s been performing at a good level and we’ve been getting decent results to show for it.”

Keith Long before the game Tommy Dickson / INPHO Bohs boss Keith Long has overseen his side's impressive start to the season. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Barry himself currently has something other than football to occupy his thoughts.

“I’ve been doing a college degree online for the last three years online while I was in Cork and Derry. It’s not too much of a change [since moving to Bohs], I’m just doing it in the mornings instead of the evenings.

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“It’s a sports management degree through FifPro. I got it through the PFAI. Gary Rogers, the goalkeeper at Dundalk, and Dave O’Connor at Shelbourne have done it. 

“I’ve only five or six months left maximum, so nearly there.”

Nevertheless, whether Barry completes the season with the Dalymount Park outfit remains uncertain. His current loan deal expires in July. 

Of the players who had been ahead of him in the pecking order at Cork, Alan Bennett at 37 is not getting any younger and recently became part of interim boss John Cotter’s coaching staff, while highly-rated young defender Sean McLoughlin has been continually linked with a move across the water.

Yet Barry says he is not thinking about his long-term future at the moment and is purely focused on helping Bohs maintain their good form. He knows the importance of not getting carried away with the highs and lows of football. When he was at Sheffield United, there was an encouraging loan spell at Scottish side Dumbarton in which he saw plenty of game time, but still found a first-team spot elusive upon his return to the Blades, with manager Nigel Clough ultimately acceding with the frustrated youngster’s request to leave and return home in 2014.

The levels over there are different. It’s nearly like a different industry. It’s much more cutthroat the higher you go.

“[Not breaking into the first team] happens to a lot of people and you just get on with it really.”

Such disappointments ultimately emphasise how tenuous life as a footballer can be, a factor that is all too often overlooked by youngsters striving to make it in the game.

“The way the league is, you have to be realistic,” Barry adds. “There are only three or four teams who pay 52-week contracts. It’s not really acceptable. If the league wants to develop and get a better reputation, things like that need to be addressed. For a young guy coming into the league, they need a bit of security — education or an apprenticeship would be a very good idea, so you’ve always got that to fall back on. A lot of lads at Bohs are doing their degrees and those who aren’t already have full-time jobs alongside the football. [It's important to] make sure you have something there, so if it doesn’t work out — and for 99%, it doesn’t — you have that to fall back on.

“I’ve had a few injuries myself, as has probably every other player in the league. When you’re injured, you start to realise that your career can be cut short and it is short, even at the best of times. It’s probably 15 years max now, so you’ll always need something. Even the guys in the Premier League, it’s not just about how much money they have, you have to do something after football as well, so it’s really important.”

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