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Old Liverpool pals to do battle as historic Dublin derby returns

McAuley and O'Hanlon swap Anfield for Dublin derby clash

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Bohemians’ Glen McAuley

Bohemians’ Glen McAuley

SPORTSFILE

Bohemians’ Glen McAuley

The path that leads away from Anfield Road can be rough, full of twists and dead ends.

Today, two footballers will leave their homes at opposite ends of Dublin, one in Tallaght and the other in Blanchardstown, their route stopping in Phibsboro. It's derby day in Dublin, Bohemians v Shelbourne, a sell-out crowd and live TV (RTÉ 2, KO 8pm).

Shelbourne left-back Alex O'Hanlon (23) is proud of his role in a good start to 2020, two clean sheets in three games.

Bohemians striker Glen McAuley (20) is happy to have started the last three games but frustrated to be awaiting his first goal.

Their tussles could define the game. "Alex is a big lad to play against but if it's a race I'd back myself for pace," says McAuley. "It'll be a good battle."

Dublin is now home again but as O'Hanlon and McAuley in their early teens, the plan was to try to make it as professionals at Liverpool FC. O'Hanlon was there for five years, McAuley for six before a move back home last summer.

Their talent got them to Liverpool, forcing the club to go the extra mile to sign them. The then manager Kenny Dalglish made a big push to sign O'Hanlon after the St Kevin's Boys lad impressed on trial.

"Yeah, Kenny loved me, he said if I signed I would get my chance, I was only 14 or 15," says O'Hanlon.

"But then the manager gets sacked and you start off all over again, that's the hardest thing about football."

Liverpool liked McAuley, then with St Joseph's Boys after a spell with Crumlin United, so much they brought him over early: before the legal moving age of 16.

"I moved over at 13, I used to play in all these tournaments under fake names and I was only there officially when I turned 16. I had to go over and back every two weeks," McAuley laughs.

"You can't turn down a club like Liverpool when they ask you. I am an only child and it was hard for my Mam and Dad to let me go but it was my dream, and they had to let me go follow my dream."

O'Hanlon, who moved over in 2011, was advanced in his Anfield career when his fellow Dubliner arrived. "I was in the U23s and he was in the U18s but I kept hearing about this lad from Dublin who was scoring all these goals," O'Hanlon says. "Once he gets a chance he's clinical."

Early promise did not not lead to where they wanted, the first team, and the two lads had to leave.

"For my last 18 months there I knew I wanted to come home. I was over there for long enough, I wanted to get home, get back my love for the game," says McAuley.

"If I'd stayed maybe I'd have got some minutes in one of the cups but you're still not really a first team player, the gap is just too big."

O'Hanlon's closest experience was a training camp in Spain with Jurgen Klopp's squad. "I trained with them a few times but it just didn't happen. I thought I was good enough, I had great self-belief but in England it's getting harder and harder to make it there," O'Hanlon believes.

Despite being unable to make the first team, both men still carry the Anfield mark.

"I learned how to be a professional, how to eat well, to be on time. Even if you don't make the first team there you take a lot away," says McAuley, laughing at the memory of the £50 fine for using a phone during team meals, while O'Hanlon's proud of avoiding the £100 fine for being late.

James Milner and Daniel Sturridge were mentors for O'Hanlon, but for McAuley, Mo Salah was quieter.

"The likes of Salah wouldn't say much to you, in training they are just so focused on their own game," McAuley recalls. "It was so hard playing against Van Dijk in training, he was just too good," says McAuley.

Both men found the next step immediately after Anfield to be tough: O'Hanlon had unconvincing spells with St Patrick's Athletic and Glentoran before finding his feet with Shels, while McAuley left Pat's six months into an 18-month deal.

But home fires burn for the duo. "I was used to playing in front of 20 people for the U23s so to come back and have the Bohs fans singing for 90 minutes is great," says McAuley.

O'Hanlon loves the edge. "When you play U23s football over there it's fake, if you lose a game no one cares. Here, you are playing for something, on Fridays you are buzzing all day just thinking about the game. In England it doesn't matter. Bohs v Shels really matters."