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Dublin: 8 °C Friday 22 November, 2019

‘Every year I went over… I had a little cry to myself that first week’

Luke Wade-Slater on his rejuvenation at Bohs after a difficult time with Stevenage.

Luke Wade-Slater has come back from a difficult spell at Stevenage to establish himself in the Bohs team.
Luke Wade-Slater has come back from a difficult spell at Stevenage to establish himself in the Bohs team.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

THERE IS AN exuberance about Bohemians currently that is mirrored by the excitement palpable in Luke Wade-Slater’s voice as he talks about the team.

Despite a couple of key players leaving at the start of the campaign and recently losing top scorer Dinny Corcoran to a long-term injury, the Dublin side continue to punch above their weight.

It is a relatively young team, consisting of part-time players who some critics tipped to struggle at the start of the season.

Instead, they have excelled more often than not. On three occasions, the Gypsies have played Shamrock Rovers, and they have won each time. Friday’s victory over Waterford, coupled with the Hoops’ loss to Dundalk, means the Dublin rivals are just four points apart in the table, despite Stephen Bradley’s men having greater funds and resources at their disposal.

“I don’t think anyone really thought we would be where we are now.,” Wade-Slater tells The42. “We’re not happy to be where we are at the same time, but we’re happy that we’re doing well.

“If you look back on some of the games where we dropped points, we could be in a better position.

We’ve come together as a squad. We’re not just a group of players. I think we’re all mates. We’re different than most teams. We’re a proper team. We all get on and work together. We’ll have a pop at each other not just to have a go, but to get the best out of each other.”

Wade-Slater was one of several players brought into the club during the off-season, signing from Stevenage. Conor Levingston (Wolves), James Talbot (Sunderland), James Finnerty (Rochdale) and Daniel Mandrou (Brighton) were among the other new recruits. 

Bohs’ encouraging current third-place position is an indication of how well the majority of these new faces have settled in to their new surroundings.

The feel-good factor at the club has been accentuated by Sunday’s news that seven players have already opted to sign new deals, though Ali Reghba’s departure last week was a reminder that they will always to some extent be victims of their own success.

Wade-Slater joined last December and is one of the many young players enjoying life there.

“I knew some of the boys anyway from playing at St Kevin’s in similar age groups — Darragh [Leahy], Robbie [McCourt], Paddy Kirk and Dano [Mandroiu]. So it didn’t really take long to settle in

“I had my eye on Bohs and obviously to have a word with Keith. I watched some of the 19s get their chance. I knew a few of the boys that were being told they’ll get their chance. So I knew I’d be looked after and would get my chance if I was doing the work in training.”

The Dalymount Park outfit currently have a formal partnership with St Kevin’s and Wade-Slater is one of several individuals at Bohs who were developed by the esteemed schoolboy club. He spent 11 years there in total, with his uncle, a coach for the team, introducing him to their set-up early on.

“My mum and dad were young having me, 18. So my dad got loads of trades and my ma just worked to get into a bank. My uncle got me into football when I was two or three. He just started kicking a ball with me, brought me up to Kevin’s and that was it really. You couldn’t get a football away from me.

My ma always said that if it wasn’t for [my uncle], I’d be a world champion Irish dancer, so I’m happy he came. He’d definitely be the main influence with my football.”

Growing up in Dunshaughlin, County Meath, in 2015, Wade-Slater left Ireland for Stevenage. Three of his St Kevin’s Boys team-mates — Liam Brady (younger brother of current Ireland senior international Robbie), Mikey Cregan and Jamie Gray — also made the move across the water.

“Stevenage had only kickstarted their youth team the year before. I think they were looking for a few Irish boys to get tested out. We all went over for five days and at the end of the week, they offered us a two-year scholarship. It was handy in that case, it came really quickly.”

Daniel Mandroiu celebrates scoring with Luke Wade-Slater Daniel Mandroiu of Bohemians celebrates scoring their second goal with Luke Wade-Slater in the recent match against Shamrock Rovers. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Just 17 when he moved, Wade-Slater inevitably found life difficult over in England at first.

“I was in a lucky situation to have three other Irish boys around me in that team. But it’s always hard. Every year I went over, no matter what age I was, I had a little cry to myself that first week. You almost get past that homesick stage where you’re just getting on with it and you go: ‘What would I be doing at home?’

“The hardest part was probably the last eight months I was over in Stevenage. I had a knee operation. I was made do all my rehab on my own. They didn’t want me up at the first-team training ground. That it was it really. I was put with the youth team, which wasn’t too bad really. I actually liked being down with them. It was better training than with the first team really — gym work and all. But other than that, it was the neglect of the club. But that’s just football.

“The rehab thing was hard, because I was on my own. I got physical therapy off the youth team. But I was left in a local gym on my own. They didn’t want me, so they made it really clear.

“The man-management was shocking. I was probably better off being away from everyone and down on my own, because I could get my work done. But they could have managed me better. I spoke to the first-team manager on 1 July in the local gym. I didn’t speak to him again until I moved home [in December]. I didn’t speak to him and he didn’t speak to me, so it wasn’t really a good relationship. They could have done better, because I’m sure there are loads of footballers in those situations.”

In addition to the Stevenage quartet, several other St Kevin’s players moved across the water around that time. Thomas Byrne joined Brighton. Ross Treacy signed with Swansea. And Dara O’Shea and Evan Pierce linked up with West Brom. Of the eight players in question, seven are now back in Ireland. O’Shea is the exception. The 20-year-old defender remains on the books at West Brom and has been linked with a move to Premier League side Bournemouth, having impressed on loan at Exeter in League Two last season.

It wasn’t all bad for Wade-Slater, however. The youngster enjoyed himself on occasion and did well initially, signing a professional contract with the club in 2017.

“The first year we were over there, it wasn’t the best. We all got sent home around April time. It was an unsuccessful year. But the second year, the youth team had me and the other Irish boys and a few others, and it was great. It was real professional, no one really took the piss, we got work done.”

Eventually, Wade-Slater found himself on the fringes of the first team, before an unfortunate setback hindered his progress.

I was playing in that Checkatrade Trophy. It was alright. It would mainly be 23s and some first-team players. But then when I made my full first-team debut, I ended up doing my meniscus in my knee, so I came off after 16 minutes.”

Wade-Slater didn’t really get a look in at the club thereafter, though enjoyed a productive loan spell with English non-league side Kings Langley, scoring five goals in seven appearances.

“You have to get that lucky break as well. Some guys just get that luck and once you take it, that’s your career sorted. But obviously, you have to be good enough to do it.”

English clubs, Wade-Slater adds, can be too quick to cast aside Irish youngsters at the first sign of trouble.

“Look at the amount of Irish players coming home now. There’s only a handful going over. So I don’t know whether Irish players at the moment have a bad name going to England, but there’s too many of us coming home for no reason.

“And it’s not a bad thing coming home either. It’s a good standard. You have players coming over on loan from England to Ireland.

I think people are more afraid of coming home [because of others asking] what they’re doing with their future. I think that’s what really gets to you. You don’t really worry about the football side of things, because the standard and the professionalism is the same as over there.”

Accordingly, Wade-Slater is happy being back home. When he’s not playing or training, he works in a garage up in Crumlin. His employers are very flexible with his working hours and actually encourage him to take time off and rest around match days. 

Even the atmosphere at games can be superior to England at times, with that recent 2-1 win over Rovers at Dalymount a prime example.

“I don’t think I’ll end up being in a crowd or hearing an atmosphere like that with such a small number [ever again]. It was 4,000, which I know is not too small, but I’ve been in stadiums in England with double that and there’s barely any noise. There’s so much passion [at Dalymount], it’s great.”

Wade-Slater, therefore, is determined not let to the disappointing end to his spell at Stevenage define him. He has bought into the Bohs ethos of not being embarrassed to work hard and is consequently one of a number of young players thriving at the club.

“There are a few of us that came back from England and I don’t think it’s just the boys who came back from England, there are loads of boys who feel hard done by from not getting a chance in England or a bigger club in Ireland, and not getting noticed there. I think we all feel like we have a point to prove that we’re just as good as the boys in England, or [players who are] at bigger clubs. We’re showing it at the moment and hopefully we can continue to show it.”

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Paul Fennessy

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