KEITH Long believes his Bohemians squad for the forthcoming League of Ireland season is stronger than at the same point last year – when the Gypsies went on to finish fifth.
Bohs kick off their Premier Division campaign on Friday with the biggest game of them all – the Dublin Derby against fierce rivals Shamrock Rovers at Dalymount Park.
And the Dubliner says he’s got more strength in depth at his disposal than he did 12 months ago – despite losing first-teamers Fuad Sule and Warren O’Hora to league football in England.
Combative midfielder Sule has moved to London to join up with League Two Barnet while the classy defender O’Hora signed a three-and-a-half-year deal with Premier League Brighton.
Speaking at the launch of Bohemians’ underage partnership with schoolboy nursery St Kevin’s Boys – former club of internationals Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick – Long said he will continue to have faith in young players.
“I think I’m happier than I was last year,” he said. “There’s more strength and depth to the squad than this time last year and the reason why is we’ve got a lot of games midweek and that will take its toll over the course of the season.
“Whether we’re stronger than last year… a lot of people would have had misgivings about us coming into the start of the season, but things evolve, things change.
“We brought a lot of young players into the squad and we’ve got some young players into the squad again this year, so who knows? We’ll see. Pre-season can be phoney.”
Long has looked both inside and outside the league to strengthen with Kevin Devaney returning having starred despite Galway United’s relegation and JJ Lunney moving from St Patrick’s Athletic.
Irish under-19 internationals Darragh Leahy and Dylan Watts are also in situ at Dalymount, Leahy signing from Coventry City and ex-UCD midfielder Watts on loan from Leicester City.
After new signing Ryan Swan was struck down with a pre-season knee ligament injury, Long says signing another striker would be nice but, with a tight budget, it’s unlikely.
“It’s very difficult to find a striker at this moment in time. We’ve got restrictions in terms of what we can bring in budget-wise, so we’re looking for a striker but it’s easier said than done.
“Loan moves are options but it’s easier said than done, particularly when they’re coming from full-time clubs, because we’re part-time, albeit that we’re training as some of the full-time clubs.
“We train at night and that can be difficult to try and persuade fellas that are coming from a full-time set-up to take a leap of faith coming with us.
“We believe what we’re trying to do with the players is as good as anything that’s around the league but trying to convince them to take what they perceive as a step backwards is difficult.”
Midfielder Ian Morris – who is also the club’s youth development officer – believes Bohs can kick on from last season and challenge for Europe in the reduced ten-team league.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. Obviously with 12 teams, the player pool is bigger.
“Going down to ten teams, you’re nearly getting all the top players, the better players, into ten teams. I think the league is going to be a hell of a lot stronger this year.
“The tempo in our training is extremely high, the standards we set, and any of the players that come back into us now, that’s the first thing they say.
“Sometimes the so-called top clubs in the league don’t like playing against us because we’re so intense and we like to get on with the game.
“We’re hard to play against, and that’s what we’ll be looking to do again this year, upset teams and if we want to play, we can play.”