BOHEMIANS veteran Dean Delany reckons that the current crop of youngsters at Dalymount Park have the ability to go all the way to the senior international team.
Morale in the Bohs camp was high over the weekend as Aaron Callaghan's side managed a late goal to finish with a 1-1 draw away to Shamrock Rovers, and they take a break from the league campaign tonight to face up to Bray Wanderers in the EA Sports Cup.
Callaghan used four teenagers (Luke Byrne, Andy Mulligan, Michael Barker and Michael Scott) against Rovers on Friday, and is likely to use the League Cup game to rotate his squad and try out other youngsters like Kevin O'Leary and Conor O'Brien.
Delany, 32, has played with names like Richard Dunne, Robbie Keane and John O'Shea in the green shirt at various stages, but feels that some of the present squad, especially young defender Luke Byrne, have massive potential.
"It might seem like a big statement to make about a player who is so young but I can see someone like Luke Byrne going on to play for the senior international team, I really do," he said.
Delany has vast experience at international level. He was part of the Irish U18 side which won the European Championship title in 1998, was capped six times at U21 level and even made the Irish senior squad on one occasion, when he was called in by Brian Kerr as cover for a Euro 2004 qualifier against Georgia.
"We have other lads like Keith Buckley and Michael Barker who also have great careers ahead of them if they can keep progressing," he added.
"They really have the potential to play for a bigger club abroad and see what else they can do in their careers.
"It depends on how they apply themselves, how they adapt to playing first-team football every week.
"I keep telling these players that they are getting a great opportunity here at Bohemians. If they can get into the first team, do well and maintain some good form, it's a brilliant way to start their career.
"They're getting exposure in the top league in Ireland and they can use that to try and further their careers abroad, if that's what they want to do," added Delany, who won an FA Youth Cup medal with Everton and also played for Port Vale.
"Aaron Callaghan is very encouraging on that score as well and I think the players are starting to respond to it. They seem to realise that it's a big deal to get into the first team at a Premier Division club here at the age of 18 or 19 and then it's up to them to see how far they can go.
"Aaron is very good with young players that way as he gives them confidence and self-belief. Even when they make a mistake he doesn't hammer them or blame them, he helps them learn from it and move on."
Seeing as they are so far off the pace in the league table, the EA Sports Cup may be the club's best chance of winning something this season and while changes to the starting XI are likely, Delany says the competition is a big deal.
"If we can get a good run in one of the cups it would be great for the fans. They deserve something this season for the way they have backed us even when we weren't doing well or getting results for them," says Delany, who overcame a thigh injury to start in goal in Friday's 1-1 draw with Shamrock Rovers, where an injury-time goal from Ryan McEvoy levelled the scores after a controversial Ronan Finn penalty had put Rovers ahead.
"Full credit to the team that played on Friday. We had a couple of teenagers in the team and most of the players, apart from the old heads like myself and Dave Mulcahy, are 22 or younger.
"It's a credit to the club that they have provided an opportunity and a big stage like this for young lads to play football," said Delany.
"The team stood up to the challenge on Friday, we played in the right manner as we play a passing game and it's great to see young lads getting a chance.
"The draw on Friday against Rovers was a fair result, it would have been very harsh on us to lose."