Tuesday 23 January 2018

Gypsies get taste of old glory days

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

NIGHTS like Friday were not supposed to happen at Dalymount Park this season.

The years of big spending and big nights were believed to be over -- the age of austerity and amateurism had begun.

For Bohs fans, beating Shamrock Rovers 4-0 was beyond the stuff of dreams. Most travelled to Phibsborough hoping to hold their bitter rivals to a point, while the more optimistic reckoned they could squeeze a win.

What followed will live long in the Gypsy faithful's memory; a destruction of the champions that has heaped pressure on their former manager Stephen Kenny and lifted the gloom -- at least temporarily.

And less than a week later, Bohs are back in Europe, albeit by default, facing Icelandic second division side Thor Akureyri at home tonight. They do so with little expectation, but plenty of confidence.

Bohs may be back to basics, a stripped-down version of their former selves, but Friday's win brought a taste of the old days back for the time being at least.

That the financial problems remain behind the scenes at Dalymount is beyond question. Five years on from securing a lucrative deal to sell the famous old stadium and move to a new home in Harristown, the club remain in the crumbling ground with crippling debts.

That deal with Liam Carroll's Danninger Ltd fell through and while the club sustained their on-field success for a season or two on credit, they finally admitted their problems and have been slashing their budgets over the past two seasons.

Debt

A €4m-plus debt to Zurich Bank remains, while the latest valuations on the stadium are a fraction of the €40m deal agreed during the last, heady days of the property boom.

The fans have rallied round and kept the club going with fundraising nights and other initiatives, but it will take something greater to sustain Bohs in the long term.

And the reduced budgets have almost brought a club that was once a bastion of amateurism back to something approaching their former selves.

When Aaron Callaghan was brought on board to replace Pat Fenlon, his remit was to recruit promising young players with an eye to the future.

As Callaghan himself explains: "We're not out of the mire financially at Bohs yet, but our players are developing quite nicely and I have been impressed with a lot of the young guys. The European games will be beneficial and I'm looking forward to it."

In most cases, the new manager had little to offer potential recruits but a brand and the added profile of playing in the famous red-and-black shirt in front of decent crowds at Dalymount. It wasn't much, but as former Monaghan United manager Roddy Collins bemoaned earlier this season, it was often enough to secure the services of players choosing between Mons, Dundalk, Bray and the Gypsies.

The squad are so low-profile that they can walk around the bars beneath the Jodi Stand without being recognised, even after beating Rovers. Apart from experienced campaigners Owen Heary, Dave Mulcahy, Derek Pender and Evan McMillan, they are a mixture of young, unproven talent and cast-offs from other clubs.

Highly rated left-back Luke Byrne missed a league game to attend his secondary school graduation earlier this season, while striker David Scully couldn't play against Cork City because of a family wedding.

With the majority of the squad earning around €50 a week in travel allowances, these are the problems that come with the territory. That the Gypsies are competitive and heading for Europe this week is beyond expectations.

Their young guns have been so impressive that they have been attracting interest from across the water. Neil Lennon was at the derby on Friday night and is believed to be interested in 19-year-old Kevin Feely, who has been handed the captain's armband in recent weeks.

After a slow start, when they failed to score in their opening five games, Bohs began scoring stunners on a regular basis and now sit in seventh place with five wins from 15 games.

Everyone at Dalymount knows what beating Thor Akureyri would mean. A tie against Czech side Mlada Boleslav looks a task too far, but the extra gate receipts and €90,000 in prize money would do a lot for the club's cash flow.

Bohs have a long way to go off the pitch, but on it, they are heading in the right direction.

Irish Independent

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