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Dublin: 19 °C Wednesday 5 August, 2020

The Irish-Algerian teenager helping Bohs punch above their weight

One of the League of Ireland’s brightest prospects, Ali Reghba, chats to The42.

Ali Reghba is making waves at Bohemians.
Ali Reghba is making waves at Bohemians.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

IN STEPHEN KENNY’S first press conference as Ireland U21 boss, he was asked about players for the future. One of the first individuals he cited as a player with the potential to go far was Bohemians youngster Ali Reghba.

Kenny, who has a reputation for getting the best out of young players, was not the only one impressed with Reghba’s prowess.

In September 2018, the teenager announced himself in the League of Ireland with a bang. With the season nearing its conclusion, Reghba was handed a debut amid a Dublin Derby against St Patrick’s Athletic. Manager Keith Long was ultimately rewarded for the faith he showed in the youngster, who scored twice in a 3-1 win amid a dream introduction to first-team football.

Since then, the 19-year-old striker has continued to impress, appearing in seven out of 10 Bohs league matches this season, starting on two occasions.

With the club’s reliance on young players, part-time status and inferior resources to the top sides in the league, they would be forgiven for struggling in this environment. Nevertheless, in recent times, the Dublin outfit have consistently managed to punch above their weight. Last season, they played bitter rivals Shamrock Rovers on four occasions. The Hoops have greater funds and a more professional set-up than their Dublin counterparts, yet Bohs still managed to come away with three wins and a draw from these fixtures.

This season has been similarly positive. The Gypsies are current third in the league, only trailing second-place Derry on goal difference. On Monday, they faced reigning champions Dundalk at Oriel Park, and were the better side for much of the contest, despite suffering an agonising 1-0 loss thanks to Pat Hoban’s 95th-minute penalty. Reghba played 74 minutes in the game as the visiting side impressed, notwithstanding seven changes to their starting XI.

“It’s a really good start to the season,” he says. “All the boys have done really well. We’ve bonded together and are putting performances in, showing everyone how good we are.

The atmosphere around Bohemians, it’s like a small family. The fans always get behind us. Just this culture in the club — we just want to get better. Every year we’re growing.”

Reghba has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. Born in Germany, he initially lived in Essen near Dortmund with his Algerian father and Irish mother up until the age of six. The youngster then moved to Coolock in Dublin, which is where he has been based ever since.

“My dad was a boxer and he boxed at a very high level,” he explains. “He started off in Algeria, went to France and boxed there for a bit, but due to an injury, he had to stop.

“On my mum’s side of the family, two of my uncles boxed and were into sports, so there is that background in my family.

“When I was younger I used to train in boxing with my dad, but he never really wanted me to take that route, he was more happy with the football route.

“Obviously, him and my mum have been behind me. Since day one, they’ve backed every decision I’ve made. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be playing football.”

Glenn Whelan and Keith Fahey with Ali Reghba Ireland internationals Glenn Whelan and Keith Fahey with Ali Reghba in 2010. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

With his talent for football apparent from an early age, Reghba gradually worked his way up the schoolboy ladder. He spent “six or seven years” at local club St Columbans, before shorter stints with Woodlawn, St Paul’s Artane, Home Farm, Shelbourne and eventually, Bohs.

Reghba first displayed his promise with the Dalymount Park outfit at U19s level, helping them win back-to-back titles in addition to competing in Europe.

“It was a huge experience. Not many young players can say they’ve played in the [Uefa Youth League]. Bohs gave me the opportunity to do so and it’s a great club, I’d recommend it to any young player looking for a club in the League of Ireland.

Even this season, a few of the boys from the 19s and the 17s have already made appearances in the cup for our first team. So it’s really good from that point of view.”

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Now 19, Regbha completed his Leaving Cert last year and he’s currently doing a course in Cabra in the mornings when he’s not representing Bohs. It encompasses a number of subjects from sports psychology and science to gym instructing.

“It’s all based on sports and football, so it’s good,” he says.

Such work represents a safety net in case Regbha’s dream of making it as a professional footballer does not come to fruition. The signs have been promising of late, however. Last January, before re-signing with Bohs, the young forward went on trial to Leicester City, scoring twice in one match while there.

“It was something different, but I really enjoyed it,” he recalls. “It’s a different league, a different type of play, a different culture.”

Regbha is widely expected to officially sign for the Premier League club in the summer if several media reports are to be believed, though the youngster is keen to focus on Bohs for now rather than discuss this speculation.

Despite striker being his preferred position, Reghba has been mostly required to play right wing at senior level this season, though he appreciates doing such jobs are part of learning his trade.

I’ve gotten used to the level of this league and I’m only getting better playing against top players.”

In addition to the potential Leicester move, this summer could also be momentous for another reason, with Reghba likely to be part of Tom Mohan’s Ireland U19 squad travelling to Armenia.

With the Boys in Green the only side to win six out of six in qualification, they will be optimistic about making an impact at the tournament proper in July, as they compete to win it alongside the host nation and six other teams: Czech Republic, Norway, Spain, France, Portugal and Italy.

As someone with plenty of senior football under his belt and who was part of that impressive qualification, Reghba unsurprisingly does not sound the slightest bit daunted by the challenge.

“With the squad and the strength in depth we have, anything is possible.”

Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Bernard Jackman to discuss Izzy Folau’s impending sacking by Australia and all the week’s news on the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Paul Fennessy

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