January 31 2013
THEY'RE BIG BHOYS
Lansdowne proving a point with many points again in the CSL
By Jay Mwamba
If anyone thought Lansdowne Bhoys’ run to the Cosmopolitan Soccer League championship match last season was a flash in the pan, current facts suggest otherwise.
Seven months after a 5-4 penalty shootout loss to N.Y. Greek-American Atlas denied them a historic first title, the Bhoys, now under the tutelage of Austin Friel after the departure of Kevin Grogan, remain strong contenders in the CSL top flight.
At the halfway mark, they share first place in the West with Central Park Rangers.
More importantly, Friel’s lads remain on track for a playoff berth, which would put them one win away from a return to the championship match come June. The club is also one victory away from its first appearance in the Manning Cup final.
Lansdowne will clash with Manhattan Celtic in the semifinals this spring.
A vital cog in last year’s campaign with his club high 22 goals, Friel credited team effort for Lansdowne’s continued impressive form after Grogan accepted the gaffer’s role at rookie CSL Jersey City Eagles.
“When I took the job it was hard at the start as we lost about six or seven players from our squad last year, so I had to go recruiting,” said the former League of Ireland star with Finn Harps.
“We have a strong backbone that stayed with us in Declan Reilly, Conor Hunter and Craig Purcell. But the likes of Jean Phillppe Ahoua and Sean Reilly have been loyal to Lansdowne and their [decision] to stay with the team from last year was a major help to me,” he added.
The Derryman, who is 31 and can claim UEFA Cup experience, said his first task as boss was to recruit really good players if the Bhoys were to compete again.
“I signed Stephen Roche from the Greeks, who has been great, a true pro who is a joy to work with. I also signed Henri Joel Gouhan, a top class midfielder from Ivory Coast, and Papa Thioune a quality marksman from Senegal who scored 14 goals. Both have been excellent,” he said.
Roche, a 27 year-old graduate of the Dublin Institute of Technology, which he attended on a full soccer scholarship, has been a massive addition to the Lansdowne midfield. Ironically, he was a penalty scorer for G-A Atlas against the Bhoys in the championship match.
His vast experience includes some 10 caps for Ireland at the 2007 and 2009 world students games in Bangkok and Belgrade, respectively, and the skipper’s armband at the latter event.
In addition, Roche has turned out for UCD in the Irish Premier league and FC New York in the USL PRO division.
Friel also touted Rudy Caul Field as another excellent signing whose real impact, after overcoming injury, should be felt in the spring.
“I am not a manager who signals out individuals until they have won something,” Friel said. “All we have done is put ourselves in a great position for the spring and the team deserves a lot of credit for that.”
The young player-coach reiterated that Lansdowne’s near successful 2012 title run was no accident.
“I can guarantee you that last season was no fluke. We have a good group of people in charge of our club who deserve a lot of credit,” he said. “We are always building and getting stronger and stronger every year with our youth academy almost set up. So the future looks good for Lansdowne Bhoys!”
Friel also had props for the Lansdowne executive board, led by president William McGrory and his vice Aidan Corr, for its strong backing for the club.
A year after trying out for Airtricity League clubs Sligo Rovers, Derry City and UCD, Lansdowne midfielder Sean Reilly has signed for Friel’s old club Finn Harps FC.
Reilly, who is 21 and was born in Westchester of a County Mayo dad and Derry mom, has cut his teeth in the Lansdowne engine room the last couple of seasons. His move to Ireland validates the potential both in the Lansdowne squad and the CSL.