ST. PATRICK’S ATHLETIC
St. Patrick’s Athletic kick-off 2017 quietly assured that their place in the Premier Division for 2018 will be a straightforward affair. Expectations have been curtailed year on year from their 2013 league-winning campaign, with last year’s 7th spot the club’s worst finish since 2009.
With three sides facing relegation this season, Liam Buckley has had to rebuild his squad capably, with Barry Murphy and Pat Cregg bringing experience where Alex O’Hanlon and Josh O’Hanlon bring youth, following the departures of Brendan Clarke, Sean Hoare, Jamie McGrath and Mark Timlin.
The manager’s biggest coup was undoubtedly securing the services of striker Christy Fagan for two more years. His fitness will play a key part in the club’s aspirations, which could range from avoiding a relegation battle to a plucky dash for Europe and a top three spot.
Buckley’s side beat opponents Bray already this campaign, albeit in a Leinster Senior Cup fixture. He admits his side will not be taking Harry Kenny’s side for granted as a result of the 4-0 win last month.
"We cannot look into that game too much as circumstances and team selections will differ for Friday's game” he told stpatsfc.com. “We're expecting a tough start, but we're hoping to improve on our home form from last year as we felt we didn't perform to our best in Inchicore last year.”
Consistency will be a crucial aspect to St. Pats in the new campaign, with winger Conan Byrne — playing his fifth straight season at the club — explaining that the side will build on a promising pre-season throughout January.
"Our plan is to continue our positive pre-season, pass the ball well, press as a team when we don't have it, keep more clean sheets, improve our set pieces and keep our attacking play at the level it's been at in recent years”, he said.
Manager Buckley has a full squad to choose for Friday night’s game bar 19-year-old defender Rory Feely who carries a suspension through from last season.
Bray Wanderers go into the new campaign having lost just once out of their last 19 Premier Division games under Harry Kenny in 2016. The 54-year-old turned the side around from an unstable performance in the opening half of last season under Mick Cooke, which threatened to see the club relegated to the First Division with just nine points from a possible 48 at the end of June.
With a fresh outlook and an injection of funds, Kenny has added experience and a host of established names to his squad, as the side poise a genuine threat to break the top three and earn European football for 2018.
Keith Buckley and Gary McCabe have put their Dublin Derby days behind them to join forces in midfield. While the club also surprised many St. Pats fans during the off-season by securing the services of former Saints ace Anto Flood, who helped the Inchicore club claim the Premier Division title in 2013 with 10 goals in the league.
But like St. Pats on their opposite end with Christy Fagan, Bray’s best deal of the window was convincing winger Dylan Connolly to remain at the Carlisle Grounds for another season, amid interest from champions Dundalk following the departure of Daryl Horgan.
Kenny will not be too disheartened by the club’s early exit from the Leinster Senior Cup following a 4-0 drumming from Liam Buckley’s side last month. He told the club’s website that the squad is looking forward to exacting revenge.
“Everyone is looking forward to the Pats game”, he said. “Particularly after they knocked us out of the Leinster Senior Cup. I expect a big improvement from that game.”
He has a full squad to avail of heading into Friday night’s game. However, doubts hang over the fitness of midfielders Darragh Noone (thigh strain) and Conor Earley (swollen knee).
Referee: Derek Tomney
Bray have won five out of the last eight meetings of the sides in all competitions.
St. Pats lost as many games as they won at Richmond Park last season. Their home form in 2016 consisted of 7 wins, 7 losses and 3 draws.
Bray finished a point above St. Pats last season despite two wins in their opening 16 Premier Division games.
Combined, the newly contracted pair Christy Fagan and Dylan Connolly scored 15 league goals last season. Top scorer Sean Maguire, meanwhile, scored 18.
St. Patrick’s Athletic 5/4; Draw 23/10; Bray Wanderers 11/5
St. Patrick’s Athletic 1-1 Bray Wanderers
St. Patrick’s Athletic
Suspended: Rory Feely.
Doubtful: Darragh Noone (thigh strain) and Conor Earley (swollen knee).