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Bohemians 'a little bit shocked by the negative reaction' to senior debut for 14-year-old Evan Ferguson

The precocious striker will be involved in tonight’s Uefa Youth League tie with PAOK Salonika.

Evan Ferguson with Chelsea's Kurt Zouma in a friendly game in July.
Evan Ferguson with Chelsea's Kurt Zouma in a friendly game in July.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

BOHEMIANS’ U19 SQUAD for tonight’s Uefa Youth League tie with Greek side PAOK Salonika will include Evan Ferguson, who at 15 has already caught a glimpse of senior football already years away from his contemporaries. 

Ferguson has only just turned 15, and was 14 when he made his senior league debut for Bohs as a substitute against Derry City last month. In July, he played the last 30 minutes of Bohs’ pre-season friendly with Chelsea at Dalymount Park. 

Ferguson, son of former League of Ireland stalwart Barry, has attracted significant interest from English clubs – Liverpool have been keen, and he has been to train with Brighton – and has been capped up to U16 level with Ireland. 

The decision to hand Ferguson a senior league appearance was met with a barrage of (largely online) criticism, which somewhat surprised the club’s U19s’ Head Coach Craig Sexton. 

“Everyone at the club was a little bit shocked by the negative reaction towards it”, he told The42. I think the first-team staff and especially Keith [Long] and Evan’s parents wouldn’t have let that situation happen if they weren’t comfortable with it.

“Everyone was comfortable with it. Keith is a very modern-thinking football coach, he wouldn’t put a young player in that position if he didn’t feel he was ready for it.

“Evan’s parents were fine with it, everyone else was fine with it, so I don’t see the negativity around it at all. If people know Evan and have seen Evan play will understand he is capable.” 

unnamed (2) Bohs' U19 Head Coach Craig Sexton.

Tonight will be Bohs’ second consecutive appearance in the Uefa Youth League, a competition formed in 2013 featuring the U19 sides of the sides in the Champions League along with the domestic champions of the top 32-ranked Uefa member nations. 

Like last year, Bohs are the Irish representatives, and Sexton is eager to use the two-legged tie with PAOK to show the talent latent in the underage ranks of Irish football. 

“This is the fourth year we [Ireland] have qualified in the Youth League; Cork and UCD qualified before we did last year. We have always been quite close in our games.

“We compete, and you see that at underage international level – we do extremely well. A lot of those guys are playing in the national league and supplementing international squads, so it’s a chance to showcase what we have.

“And to play top opposition, progress and show people how good we are at underage level, because we do have good players in this country.” 

The first leg is at Dalymount Park tonight [KO 7.30pm] with the return leg in Greece in three weeks’ time, on 23 October. Admission is free, and Bohs have extended an invite to partners Kevin’s Boys along with every side in the U13, U15, U17 and U19 national leagues. 

“It’s for everybody, it’s not just for Bohs”, says Sexton. “It’s for the whole league, we are just representing this year.

“It’s important that everyone gets a chance to see what European football is like at this age group.” 

Bohs lost 4-2 on aggregate to Danish side FC Midtjylland in the first round of last year’s competition, with their opponents going on to beat Manchester United and Roma on their way to the quarter-finals. 

Sexton’s side are intent on righting that result this season. 

“Absolutely. We played in it last year, we enjoyed it for what it was against Midtjylland. This season the players want to progress. They sat down at the start of the season and one of their targets was to qualify through a round in Europe.

“That’s what we have set out so we need to try and achieve it.” 

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Gavin Cooney

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