Karl Moore’s shot trickles over the line and the Jodi Stand erupts. Bohemians have battered their beleaguered arch rivals 4-0 in the derby. It is the perfect fillup for Aaron Callaghan’s squad, who qualified for Europe at Derry City’s expense – due to their three year ban from competing in UEFA competitions after liquidation.
A budget-Bohs squad, hastily assembled in January 2012 by newly appointed Callaghan, played their first competitive game in the Setanta Sports Cup in February. Bohs performed better than expected that season, belying their inexperience and lack of finances. That was nine years ago. The clubs’ fortunes have changed in recent seasons and tonight Keith Long takes a similarly inexperienced Bohs squad – by European competition standards – back to Iceland in the Europa Conference League for the first time since their 5-1 hammering by Thor Akureyri in 2012.
Learning from the mistakes of that experience in northern Iceland Keith Long can look no further than current squad stalwarts, Keith Ward, Keith Buckley and staff member, Derek Pender – who sat on the bench that fateful day. With only 25 percent of the players used in Friday’s 3-2 win over St Pat’s having played more than one game at senior European level, the knowhow of the aforementioned trio, along with Bastien Héry and Georgie Kelly will be key.
Two other key members of that Bohs team that capitulated in Iceland in 2012 were Kevin Feely and Andy McNulty. In defence and goal respectively, they bore the brunt of Thor’s hammer; however, nine years on, they provide some insight behind the result.
“I don’t recall making a save in the first leg”, explains McNulty – now manager of amateur side TEK United. “We had two really good chances in the first leg to nick it” – Peter McMahon had a goal ruled out for handball when the ball clearly struck him in the face. After the scoreless draw in the first leg at Dalymount, Feely recalls, “I remember coming out of the first leg thinking the opposition weren’t great, but we didn’t perform to our capabilities”.
Element of cockiness
A week later, Bohs drew first blood in Iceland against second tier Thor and took the lead through Dave Scully’s away goal after 23 minutes. Kevin Feely looks back on the Bohs mindset at the time. “We took our foot off the pedal, which proved to be our undoing. An element of cockiness came into us then – we had gone 1-0 up and didn’t rate the opposition that highly. We kind of thought the game was won, but it turned on a couple of sloppy goals.” As the last line of defence, McNulty was well positioned as the horror show unfolded and the precious one goal lead turned into a 3-1 deficit in the space of 25 minutes. “If you look back at the goals, we were very unfortunate. If you look back at the first three goals – there was a slip in the first and then the second was a deflection and the third an own goal. The first goal, Owen Heary slips and lets the attacker go inside and he actually miss-hits it into the top corner, the ball came off the side of his foot and completely flew into the top corner.”
Bohs were badly missing the calming influence of Dave Mulcahy in midfield in the second leg. Mulcahy had played three qualifying rounds of Europa League football – including a first leg defeat to IBV in Iceland – the previous season. “Dave Mulchay was a huge loss for us in the holding midfield role, we definitely suffered from him not being there”, lamented Feely. “You just cannot replace Dave’s experience and knowhow”. Inexperienced Londoner, Adam Martin replaced him in the engine room.
Bohs conceded twice more to cap a miserable evening, in the idyllic port town just 100 km south of the Arctic Circle. McNulty felt that a lack of experience rather than ability ultimately cost Bohs in the tie. “My long-standing memory of that game is how we let it slip by us. I felt that they were one of the poorest teams we played that season.” However, “we weren’t the superstars of old days that Bohs fans were used to. We had a few lads – like myself – who hadn’t kicked a ball in the Premier Division before”.
Guilt and regrets
Laying bare his feelings upon reflection, nine years on, Kildare-man Feely describes, “feeling guilty and shameful coming home. Of all of the Irish teams that year, we probably got the most favourable draw. There would have been a lot of guilt amongst the playing staff after that game. The financial state of the club was well known. It would have been a huge boost to the club to give them that extra bit of a cash injection.”
Bohs go into tonight’s game against Icelandic side Stjarnan as slight underdogs – this time they were unseeded in the UEFA draw. Feely believes this Bohs team won’t have the same mindset issue that befell the team of 2012. “The underdog tag has always suited Bohs. Especially with the squad that Keith Long has put together. They are a really hard working bunch who wouldn’t like to get ahead of themselves. I think it will definitely suit this current squad to go in as underdogs.”
While Feely believes playing at the Aviva will be a help to the current Bohs style of playing, McNulty feels it could hinder the inexperienced team. “The occasion could get the better of them. It adds a few extra points of pressure onto them. Even if it is only one percent pressure, it might be the difference in how they perform on the night. I’d want to play at home on my home pitch, all day, every day.” It remains to be seen whether surrendering home advantage will work in Bohemians’ favour. Dundalk rented 51,700 seat venue for their Europa League play off qualifier last season to success over Faroese opposition, while Bohs haven’t appeared at the Dublin 4 venue in nearly 30 years.
Regardless, Feely’s parents will be there to watch his younger brother Rory line out for Bohs. “Rory got the opportunity to slot in at centre half. He has grabbed that with both hands and has looked really solid in the last five or six games.” As for Kevin he’ll stay away from this one, not due to dread or superstition, but commitment to his craft takes precedence – training with the Kildare gaelic footballers.
In the next two weeks, the Feely family will be hoping to avoid an iceberg and erupt with celebration on the double – if Rory can exorcise his brother’s Icelandic nightmare and Kevin can help see Kildare past Westmeath and into a GAA Leinster football final.