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New Bohemian – Asbury Park Press
December 11, 2008

New Bohemian: TR East alum Konopka has successful season with Irish soccer club

Asbury Park Press
Ocean County Observer
Staff Writer
December 11, 2008

TOMS RIVER — When 2003 Toms River High School East graduate Chris Konopka landed in Dublin in January and began preseason training two days later with the famed Irish soccer club Bohemians FC, he felt cautious but also optimistic, not only about his chances of making the team’s roster, but also about the Gypsies’ odds for success in the new season.

Ten months later, Konopka and the Bohemians won the Eircom League of Ireland Premiere Division title for an historic 10th time in an overwhelming manor and then completed the big double of Irish soccer as they claimed the 2008 Football Association of Ireland (FAI) Ford Cup in dramatic fashion.

The Bohemians captured the regular league title with a 2-1 win over last year’s holder, Drogheda United, on Oct. 10, mathematically securing the top spot for the table-topping Bohs, which put them clear of all potential challengers with four games still remaining in the regular season.

And on Nov. 23 at the RDS Stadium Complex in the south end of Dublin in front of a near capacity crowd which included Mary McAlesse, the President of the Republic of Ireland, the Bohemians completed the double, winning the 2008 FAI World Cup over northern rival Derry City.

The Bohs won the Cup for the seventh time in the club’s 118-year history with a 4-2 penalty kick shootout after a 2-2 tie through 120 minutes of regulation and overtime.

It is believed Konopka is the first American born player to win the Irish double.

“My entire time with Bohs was nothing less than incredible,” said Konopka, who returned to the United States for the offseason. “From my first day in camp, I felt something really special could happen.”

During his travels and competitions with Bohs this year, Konopka experienced the true passion of the sport throughout Europe, having his passport stamped in Ireland, Spain, Northern Ireland, England, Wales and Latvia.

“And I cannot say enough about the fans,” Konopka said. “The Bohs’ supporters are probably the most passionate and loyal of any I have ever seen. Our trip to Wales in July for the second leg of the (UEFA) Intertoto Cup against Ryhl was evidence of that. I think over 1,000 fans made the trip with us across the Irish Sea in the summer and the supporters at the Cup final were just absolutely incredible.

“The fans were great and the atmosphere was amazing all year. It was a privilege to play for such an organization.”

Konopka, 23, who dressed for all except one match of the Gypsies’ run, was the team’s steady No. 2 keeper behind first choice and two-time back-to-back Goalkeeper of the Year Brian Murphy, whose play all year drew interest from top clubs in England and Scotland.

Konopka made his Bohemian first-team debut July 1 at Derry City, going the distance in the quarterfinals of the Eircom League of Ireland Cup.

He also led the Bohemians’ reserve team to the 2008 Eircom A-Shield championship game against Cork City in June and the Eircom A-League championship final match against UCD on Nov. 12.

Although he did not make a first-team Premiere League appearance this season, the 6-foot-5 former Raider started between the pipes in 18 other matches for the Gypsies and appeard once as a substitute during other various competitions for the Bohs in 2008.

He went 13-4-1 in matches in which he appeared. He impressed Bohs manager Pat Fenlon, goalkeeper coach Dermot O’Neill and chief scout Dave Henderson and is presently discussing a renewal with the Gypsies.

“Working with Pat, Dermot, Hendo (Henderson) and Murph (Murphy) all year was like training with the national team on a daily basis,” Konopka said. “It was exceptional. You showed up each day and worked as hard as you can, then came back the next day to work even harder. I learned so much about the technical and tactical pieces of my position.

“And Pat instilled a first-class, no-nonsense professional attitude in everyone on the team and it paid off. Murph pushed me each day in training and I pushed him right back. I believe we helped each other during the entire season. I have definitely become a better professional.”

Founded in 1890, the Bohemians are one of Europe’s oldest soccer clubs. Their home ground, historic Dalymount Park, has been a stage for some of the world’s top footballers, including Stanley Matthews, Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Bobby Charlton, Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Zinedine Zidane, and countless past and present Irish and European stars.

Konopka spent his rookie professional season in 2007 with the Kansas City Wizards of Major League Soccer. Prior to his arrival in Kansas City, Konopka had impressive trials with English League championship side Cardiff City and also with Charlton Athletic, then of the English Premiership, who were both keen on the young keeper.

Konopka played four years for Providence College and finished as one of the top goalkeepers in Friar history.

He ranks third all-time in most games played by a Providence goalkeeper and is the lone Friars keeper to notch a win in the NCAA Division I Tournament.

As a senior, Konopka was named to the All-Big East Conference second team, becoming the second keeper in school history to receive all-league honors.

He was the first Providence player to be drafted by an MLS team when the Wizards selected him in the MLS Supplemental Draft.

A veteran Jersey Shore Boca Soccer Club player, Konopka was a member of Boca’s youth system, Super Y-League, under 20 and under 23 teams throughout his career and a member of Boca’s PDL team in 2003.