Europa Conference League: Bohs, Dundalk and Sligo look for winning starts

Keith Long highlights lack of streamlined youth development in Ireland

Bohemians will begin their campaign in Iceland. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Europa Conference League - first qualifying round, first leg

Stjarnan v Bohemians

Estádio Stjörnuvöllur, Reykjavík, 8.45pm

Every half century or so, a Scottish gem is unveiled at a major football tournament. As Archie Gemmill passed the torch to Billy Gilmour, following his stellar performance against England at Wembley, Liam Burt has been reviving his career at Dalymount Park.

“He was probably the outstanding schoolboy underage player of his generation in Scotland,” said Bohemians manager Keith Long of the 22-year-old, who is one of just six post World War II men to play for Rangers and Celtic. “For whatever reason things didn’t quite happen for him and he has come here and found his feet.”


A neat and tidy addition to the north Dubliners’ attack since joining the club last February, the Glaswegian and Bohs appear in the European shop window tonight and again in front of 6,000 supporters at the Aviva stadium next Thursday.

“Billy Gilmour, I played with him at Rangers and with the Scotland A group,” said Burt, matter of factly ahead of two European nights that offer an opportunity to show a wider audience what he has been doing on a regular basis alongside the League of Ireland’s outstanding midfield prospect Dawson Devoy.

Bohs certainly embraced their media platform before taking a chartered flight to Iceland with Long also highlighting the lack of streamlined youth development in the country.

“I think academy is a new word in Irish football. I think a lot of League of Ireland clubs are doing things well and are trying to do things correctly, but unfortunately some other clubs, and they may not like to hear this, are not actually focusing on youth development as much as some of the other clubs are.

“And if we’re going to raise the standard all clubs have the responsibility. You look at the weekend results at academy level across the country. There is too much of a divide between clubs, and if we really want the best playing with the best, we have to make sure that the top clubs are playing each other at youth level every week in order to aid their development and transition them hopefully into your first team. There can’t be scorelines like 7-1 or 8-1 or 11-1, or whatever it might be.”

Ideally, the Irish clubs can avoid similar scorelines on the lowest rung of the European ladder.

Referee: Sandi Putros (Denmark).

Dundalk v Newtown AFC

Oriel Park, 5.45pm

Dundalk’s preparations have been disrupted by a “minor Covid outbreak” in the squad. Newtown, from the Vale of Powys in Wales, are also missing players due to the virus with Dundalk’s recently reappointed manager Vinny Perth believing the problem is only going to be exacerbated by European competition. Uefa demands a full round of testing before every fixture, which has revealed a number of positives from asymptomatic players.

“Covid is rampant in our community” said Perth, “particularly with people aged 17 and 30, so a lot of footballers fall into that category and I think this is just the beginning of it in terms that if sports’ teams are going to be tested then I think you will find that numbers are quite high in this sort of age group.”

Greg Sloggett’s injury could mean the midfielder misses a second successive European campaign since Perth signed the 25-year-old but Dundalk should still progress.

“Missing a European game, it means the world to them. Greg is doing everything to get fit. It is a pain management issue rather than any damage. He is touch and go.”

Perth admitted the usual European excitement around Dundalk has been absent this week, for all the obvious reasons.

“Dundalk is effectively a brand in Europe when it comes to European football. That is what has been achieved by this club over the last eight years. It was a selling point to the new players.

“These footballers have come into this club and it has not been stable for them, they have not had a chance to shine.

“What I’ve tried to do is to create a bit of stability. They are all excited by Dundalk and European football but it’s been a difficult experience for them. Maybe these European games can give them a bit of freedom to express themselves.”

Referee: Barbeno Luca (San Marino)

FH Hafnarfjordur v Sligo Rovers

Kaplakriki stadium, Hafnarfjordur, 7pm

Sligo Rovers’ hugely impressive league campaign, they lie second behind defending champions Shamrock Rovers on goal difference, is arguably disrupted by this sortie to Iceland.

The club passed up on signing former Ireland striker Anthony Stokes but Séamas Keogh is another, younger returnee from the UK that manager Liam Buckley sounds delighted to have added to the Rovers squad.

“He’s a baller, technically fantastic and I’ve absolutely no doubt that the future for him here is very bright.

“He was unfortunate at Southampton. It’s dog rough in England. For every one kid that makes it, another 100 don’t.”

The 19-year-old’s return to Ireland is a sign of the times and Buckley hopes to add a few more gifted young Irish players that find themselves out of contract in the coming weeks.

“My idea of him is that he’s a really, really top player. He wants to make an impression and hopefully he does that.”

Another indication of football’s changing ways is the abolition of the away goal rule although Buckley was quick to play down its significance on Thursday.

“We wouldn’t be playing for a draw or anything like that.”

Referee: Ishmael Barbara (Malta).