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'I think RTÉ, for whatever reason, seems to not fully get behind football in this country'

Bohemians manager Keith Long hails his players for savouring ‘the time of their lives’ after first-leg win over PAOK but expresses frustration at lack of TV coverage.

Bohemians manager Keith Long.
Bohemians manager Keith Long.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

PRIDE AND PRAGMATISM peppered Keith Long’s words as he attempted to find reason in Bohemians’ historic 2-1 victory over PAOK in the first leg of their Europa Conference League third round qualifier.

And there was also more than a hint of annoyance that this famous win – courtesy of two Ali Coote goals either side of half time – did not reach the wider Irish sporting public.

This victory was savoured by a captive audience.

The 8,000 fans permitted inside Aviva Stadium due to Covid-19 restrictions and the vast majority tuning in to the LOI TV stream produced by the club are already converts.

The fact this tie, and not a single one of Bohemians’ four European games, or the eight other ties involving Shamrock Rovers, Dundalk and Sligo Rovers, have been broadcast on Irish television has left a bitter taste for Long – regardless of the fact they made history by becoming the first League of Ireland club to win four successive European fixtures in a single campaign.

bohemians-fans-celebrate-during-the-game Bohemians fans celebrate during the historic victory. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

RTÉ last screened a Premier Division game on May 7 and, almost three months later, not a single fixture has been shown with no date confirmed for the next one to be on the screens.

Long acknowledged a summer dominated by Euro 2020 and the Olympics has saturated the schedule, but couldn’t hide his annoyance.

“I think we all share those frustrations. This was a great spectacle. [Last night] would have been good value for the licence payer, so you have to ask the powers that be [their reasons],” the Bohs boss said.

As a league, as an association, as a sport, maybe we need to take control of that ourselves a little bit. Maybe resources with the Olympics going on, investment into the Euros, the contract with the league and amount of games shown [it’s tied to the international team television contract]. It is frustrating, there’s no doubt about it.

“You only have to witness Dundalk in Europe a couple of seasons back, the whole country got behind Dundalk at that time and were proud. The wider sporting public have been denied it [last night]. This is a nice story for us and I’m very proud of the club,” Long continued.

“It is disappointing that we always seem to be scrapping for the crumbs at the big table when it comes to getting that sort of exposure. It is frustrating, and I don’t think it would happen other sports in GAA or rugby. I just don’t think it would happen.

“The powers that be, they are the ones with the questions to answer there. Maybe it’s a budget thing. We get on with our job. We are immersed in it. I think RTÉ, the national broadcaster, for whatever reason, seems to not fully get behind the professional game in this country.”

ciaran-kelly-celebrates-ali-cootes-second-goal Bohemians centre back Ciaran Kelly was excellent on the night. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Seeing the job through in Greece is the next test for Long. PAOK are ranked 77th by UEFA, Bohs 380th. Last night the Gypsies were one goal better. Avoid defeat in the second leg, in front of what could be a crowd of 30,000, and they will advance.

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“The challenge was to rise to the level of the opposition,” Long explained. “It was far from the perfect performance. Our execution in the final third could have been better.

“There is growth still to come. In saying that, the boys were still fantastic. They take it in their stride. They’re young man, maybe that’s the innocence of youth, they are enjoying this moment, they are enjoying this journey they are on and why shouldn’t they?

They are having the time of their lives playing here at the Aviva Stadium in front of our fanatical supporters. I can’t commend the supporters enough. They’ve made the ground shake at times with the noise they’ve made, and the boys have been able to respond to that.”

Long admitted that “some of the boys are jumping around the dressing room, others are keeping their feet on the ground” and was not being drawn on POAK boss Razvan Lucescu labelling the first-leg loss as “totally unfair” and how they would have “blood in our eyes” to qualify.

“I’m not quite sure what the interpretation of that is,” Long responded. “[Last night] is over now. We want to be here again next season and that doesn’t happen unless our domestic form is taken care off.

“We have Waterford on Saturday at two o’clock in the RSC. They have won their last four games. That’s the message, we’re pleased with the [PAOK] result, we would have preferred a clean sheet and two-goal lead but there was evidence in that performance that we can improve.”

First published today at 06.00

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