BOHEMIANS manager Keith Long admits there will be pressure – both from outside and within the squad – to improve on last year’s remarkable season.
The Gypsies surprised many by finishing third in the Premier Division – securing European football for the first time in seven years – and reaching a second successive FAI Cup semi-final.
Losing out to bitter rivals Shamrock Rovers, who went on to beat Dundalk in the final, still rankles with the Dalymount Park support.
They won’t have to wait long for a shot of revenge, however, as Rovers are the visitors to Phibsboro for the opening weekend’s encounter on February 15.
The same clash on the opening day ended in a 3-1 win for Bohs, thanks in part to two strikes from defender Dan Casey, who is one of seven new signings at the club in the off-season.
With Canadian international winger Kris Twardzik arriving from Sligo Rovers, striker Glen McAuley and defender Ciaran Kelly from St Patrick’s Athletic, Long feels they have a stronger squad.
“We feel like we’ve assembled a competitive squad, and there’s depth there, but we need to be better than last year to try and improve and keep moving forward,” Long told the Dublin Gazette.
“It’s never easy, it’s never straightforward. People will say we’ve got a stronger squad but time will tell. We’ve got seven new players to come in and strengthen us and to hopefully drive us forward.”
The club’s impressive performances over the last years have seen their players coveted by their rivals, with Ireland Under-21 left-back Darragh Leahy the latest to move to the champions Dundalk.
Captain Derek Pender announced his retirement at the end of the season to take up the role of Under-17s manager with the club.
His absence means the responsibility to fill the leadership gap will fall more on experienced players like Dinny Corcoran and Keith Buckley but younger players will also need to step up.
To that end, they’ll need to get used to the pressure that comes not only from their previous achievements but also from a resurgent and expectant fanbase.
“It’s hard to explain because we’ve got more quality in the squad, there’s no doubt about it. But there’s a little more expected of us as a result.
“We’ve know we have to try and improve if we possibly can. There’s a massive difference between where we finish in the table and Dundalk.
“Second-placed Rovers, I think they finished 15 points ahead of us and Dundalk 26. That’s a big gap to bridge.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on the players, but we are ambitious and we do want to repeat last year and get Europe again.”
** Long was speaking at the launch of Bohemians’ partnership with the National College of Ireland, which will see the parties co-fund two scholarships a year for players in the club.