Thursday 26 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Ryan Byrne/INPHO Bohemians manager Keith Long.
# Ice Ice Baby
Patience paying off as Bohemians look to bring strong form to European stage
Bohemians take on Icelandic side Stjarnan this evening.

AN ENCOURAGING SEASON for Bohemians has the potential to take another positive step this evening, with the club in Iceland to take on Stjarnan in the first leg of the Europa Conference League first qualifying round [KO 8.45pm].

After something of a stuttering start to the season, Bohs are beginning to hit their grove, with Georgie Kelly – the SSE Airtricity/Soccer Writers Ireland Player of the Month for June – leading the way up front.

The club currently sit fourth in the Premier Division table, and with a return leg in front of 6,000 supporters at the Aviva Stadium in the diary for next week, there’s plenty to look forward to.

For manager Keith Long, the current run of form is particularly pleasing given the challenges of trying to find the right new recruits for his squad before the season kicked off.

“Honestly, you don’t even want to know,” Long says.

“It was a real tough off-season, trying to recruit players, getting the right players in on many different levels – ability, character, will they fit into the group, into the club, coming into a new league, coming from different countries, that type of stuff. It was a really tough off-season.

Recruitment for me is probably the most important thing in football, apart from the people you’ve got in the building. If you’ve got good people working with teams and you’ve got the right players with the right tools and attitude, I think it’s a really powerful combination. You take a little bit of a gamble with one or two, and one or two don’t quite work out. But ultimately you have to go with your instincts and hope your environment will bring the most out of the players.

“It did take time, there is no doubt about it, to gel. The first round of games was not where we would have wanted to be. I still think we are gelling as a team, there are lots of learnings in every game, even when we win – especially when we win. We have to learn and try to improve and I think this group has growth.”

Working with such a young group requires plenty of patience. Bohemians are far from the finished product, with a number of key players still at developmental stages of their careers.

“We want to try and raise the standards and raise the bar across all levels,” Long explains.

“They also know they are at a club where they will get a bit of patience where that is needed too. And I think that is important also that we keep ourselves on an even keel. That is very much how we operate – that we don’t get too high or too low. We are always a work in progress and we are always trying to learn and develop.”

georgie-kelly-and-lee-desmond Ryan Byrne / INPHO Georgie Kelly is the Premier Division's top-scorer this season. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Long, and Bohemians, are also not shy about their ambitions. In looking to replace  attacking talents such as Danny Grant and Kris Twardek last winter, they tried to find players who they felt would be able to compete in Europe.

“I think we wanted to evolve as a team,” Long says.

“We wanted to bring better technical players to the club. We lost some fantastic players, but Kris Twardek was direct and powerful and full of pace, whereas Liam (Burt) for example is different, he’s tricky, he’s an old-fashioned winger, can go inside, outside, has beautiful balance, has good end product.

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“Danny Grant was a flying winger who came on leaps and bounds over the last 12 months and obviously got a move to a Championship club in Huddersfield. Ali Coote is a different type of player, he finds inside pockets, he finds little spaces, and his use of the ball is really, really good, a good technical player.

It has been a work in progress, and it’s still nowhere near the finished article, but the emergence of the likes of Dawson Devoy this year coupled with the recruitment of the players that we have mentioned have seen the team evolve to a slightly more possession based style of football, albeit that there was nothing wrong with how we played last year because we were very, very effective last year, but we played to our strengths.

“This is a different group with different strengths, and we’re trying to play to their strengths right now.”

In Iceland tonight Bohemians expect a physical encounter, with the hosts strong around the set-piece and out to make the most of their home advantage, with the Dublin club looking to keep the tie alive for the 6,000 ticket-holders due in the Aviva next week.

“We’ve got a young side, I don’t know our average age, but it’s certainly a lot less than the Icelandic team and I suppose we want our boys to impose their personality on the opposition and on the game, and to bring some of the domestic performances into European competition. And to recognise that it will be a step up in tempo, intensity and quality of opposition, but also it’s the challenge that we need to lay down to our young players, that listen –this is where we want to be and this is what we want to try and do.” 

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