Bray backers hoping for a miracle but are in it for the long haul
‘There’s been talk about the club going amateur next season, that’s absolute rubbish’
Niall O’Driscoll says he is committed to building a promising future for Bray Wanderers. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
The club is billing it as one of the club’s biggest games in their recent history and offering all manner of ticket deals to get supporters into the Carlisle Grounds for the visit of Limerick. But Bray Wanderers chairman Niall O’Driscoll says he is committed to fielding a professional team next year and beyond regardless of how the next few weeks pan out for Gary Cronin and his team in their relegation battle.
“What we are doing here is about the next three years,” he says. “There has been talk about the club going amateur next season but that’s absolute rubbish. There will be a budget; whether it is enough we will see next year, but the plan is to be self sufficient next year and the hope, if we do go down, is to go straight back up.
“When we brought Gary in, we told him that it was about more than the rest of this season. It would be unfair to judge him on that. We believe in him but he will be judged on the performance of his team in time. When we give him resources and he uses them to put a team of his own out there, then we will see how he does.”
O’Driscoll, who has not seen the team win since he and his brother Tim took control in late July, has not, he claims, entirely resigned himself to relegation yet. But with Wanderers nine points adrift of the play-off place currently occupied by Limerick, he admits it is not looking good, especially if the home side cannot pick themselves up and win following a difficult run of games against the division’s top six sides.
“If we stay up, we’d be thrilled. We’d absolutely love to save ourselves over the coming weeks but, to be fair, if we pulled it off they’d probably make a film about it at this stage.”
Cronin, of course, was not necessarily the most obvious choice for a club requiring something of an escape artist in the dugout and clearly his first few weeks have been a challenge - but O’Driscoll insists that bringing in someone who was in tune with how the new owners wanted to change the culture at the club was more important than achieving any quick fix with the first team.
“I could have gone for one of the traditional guys, given him a few grand a week and maybe he’d have done something but then in a few months he’d probably be gone. I don’t think it’s any secret that I made some decisions in relation to players before Gary was appointed. That was to do with the culture that we wanted to achieve, having players who bought into the same sense of how things ought to be done.
“The aim then was to bring in the best young coach in the country and I believe we have achieved that. We made it clear to him when we met him that we were looking to the next few seasons.”
That had been difficult under a regime that made little secret of its desire to cash in on the prime location of the club’s home while relocating the team to a green-field site. There was ambitious, overly ambitious many felt, talk of a new stadium and training complex but huge scepticism about whether anything much beyond some seafront apartments would ever be built. O’Driscoll, in any case, says he has no interest in any property play.
“Look, Gerry (Mulvey) put in a lot of dosh and I wish him only the best but my agenda is to build a football club. Don’t get me wrong; if someone comes in and offers a hundred million then I’d bite their hand off but that’s not going to happen and the Carlisle Grounds is in a great location for what we want to do.
“I’ve sat down with people from the council and they want to have us in the centre of town and that suits us.”
The place is not going to be suddenly transformed any time soon but O’Driscoll says money has been spent to improve the spectators’ matchday experience and insists that improved crowds suggest the effort is appreciated.
“We’ve looked to draw a line under everything that went before and move forward,” he says. We’ve put a few quid in and I would say that the ground is at least fit for purpose now. If you were to bring your child or your girlfriend along to see a game it will be an enjoyable experience.
“I don’t think the league or a lot of the people in it, at least, appreciate that they are in the entertainment business. A lot of people will prefer to go to Dundrum shopping centre on a Friday evening so that is what you have to give them an attractive alternative to.”
There might be some rehabilitation of the club to be done amongst what might be considered its core audience before he can reasonably hope to compete for the shopping centre and cinema sets - but O’Driscoll says he is surprised how forgiving they are.
“Bray is a tarnished brand,” he admits. “I’ve been amazed by how many people have had their fingers burned down the years but what’s also been amazing is how many people are willing to put that behind them. What we have been about is a positive reinvention of the brand and it is going well I think.
“The academy brand is good, though, so is the Joe’s (St Joseph’s Boys, the big Sallynoggin schoolboy club with which he has long been involved) and what is here at Bray is something that can only be improved upon.
“It’s an odd situation,” he continues. “Two months ago I was trying to screw the best deal possible out of Bray Wanderers for Joe’s and I think it’s well known that the reason I got involved here was to preserve the academy and the pathway for young players that had been established. Now both clubs have a friendly partner, me.”
Every season, he knows already, may be a struggle but in 10 years he says: “I would want Bray to be a well established Premier Division club. A club where talented young players get opportunities and a club that the county of Wicklow is proud of and engaged with. A place were kids want to come.
“That would do me,” he says, “although obviously if we can have a bit of craic along the way, then so much the better.”