It was a season that started so brightly for Bray but if results don’t go their way it could see the Seagulls slip to sixth in the table on Friday evening after they play Shamrock Rovers (kick off 7.45pm).
Their eye catching signings and brilliant beginning to their campaign had thoughts of bumper crowds in the Carlisle Grounds, maybe even a trophy or two to display by the seaside and adventures in Europe for 2018.
They sold their stand-out player Dylan Connolly to rivals Dundalk during the transfer window, saw their chairman Denis O’Connor resign during the season, and were dumped out of the Irn Bru Cup last month by Scottish League Two side Elgin City.
At one stage in the season it looked like they wouldn’t be able to pay the players wages but thankfully that situation was resolved in July but not before the destabilishing news was splashed across the sports pages.
Some truly extraordinary statements from the club later that month brought more unwelcome headlines for Bray. Their reference to County Wicklow as “the North Korea of Ireland for business” came in a rambling statement about the future of the Carlisle Grounds.
They followed it up a day later with a statement invoking the 1916 “brave Irish Men and Women (who) stood up for the cause of Irish Freedom”. Both statements were highly embarassing not just for supporters of the club but for the league as a whole.
As if that wasn’t enough, An Garda Siochána descended on the club’s training ground last month to interview the players in relation to allegations of match fixing surrounding Bray’s friendly game against Waterford. The FAI had received a complaint about that match and notified the Gardaí, with the association launching their own investigation which Bray are cooperating with.
The Seagulls conceded a late goal in Dundalk last Friday night to lose 1-0 to the Lilywhites and when Cork City played out a 0-0 draw with Derry City on Tuesday night that point for the Candystripes meant that European football was put beyond Bray’s grasp.
Bray have both Ryan Brennan and Hugh Douglas serving a suspension while Tim Clancy and Kevin Lynch are injured.
The Carlisle Grounds was damaged during storm Ophelia.A special mention to volunteers who've been present since 6am for the cleanup pic.twitter.com/3lQiwgxUNz— Bray Wanderers FC (@BrayWanderers) October 17, 2017
The Hoops have been handed a European football four-in-a-row thanks to the largesse of the other clubs around them in the table. With Bray’s late loss to Dundalk last week, it secured a minimum fourth place finish for Rovers. With the two teams above them in the table playing in the FAI Cup Final, that means the Hoops will be in Europe once again next year – the first time they will have European action four seasons running since they left Milltown three decades ago.
It isn’t a dead rubber game for Rovers though, as they will want to secure third spot in the end of season table. The highest position for the Hoops since they last lifted the title was third place in 2015. Derry City are just a point behind Rovers with both sides going into their penultimate game.
There are also some social media bragging rights up for grabs on Friday too. The Hoops had tweeted about their trip to “North Korea” after drawing 1-1 with Sligo Rovers last week. Bray responded with a Rovers nickname that isn’t very palatable in Tallaght. The tit-for-tat tweets went on after that which didn’t reflect too well on either club so it remains to be seen if there will be another twitter storm to go with the actual storm that felled those trees in the Carlisle Grounds on Monday.
Our last away game of the season is a far one as we travel to North Korea next Friday October 20th to face @BrayWanderers. KO is 7.45PM ????— Shamrock Rovers F.C. (@ShamrockRovers) October 13, 2017
Last week Stephen Bradley brought Kevin Horgan into his starting line-up for only the second time in the league this season. Goalkeeper Tomer Chencinksi was dropped following his errors against Dundalk in the previous game as the Hoops lost out in extratime in the FAI Cup semi-final replay against the recently deposed league champions.
“I thought Kevin Horgan was excellent,” said Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley when speaking to shamrockrovers.ie ahead of the game. “He was calm and made good decisions.
Bradley about his sides goal against Sligo by Gary Shaw as a “clever finish” as the striker scored his 11th league goal of the season. “It was a good cross by Brandon (Miele) for the goal and good movement by Gary (Shaw).
“We hit the crossbar twice and had a one-on-one as well. The chances showed that it should have been 3 or 4-0 at half-time. The game should have been over. Our tiredness was evident, we looked a yard off what we have been and then in the second half that increased.
“You could tell that we’d had a tough game on Tuesday, 30 minutes of extra-time. Mentally, emotionally and physically it takes a lot out of you, those games.
“We’d been on course to get Europe for a long time now and it was good to get it done on Friday. We’ll just go and try and win (in Bray) and win next week (home to Limerick) and get that third place.”
Bradley reflecting on the Rovers games against Bray this season described the 4-2 loss in the Carlisle Grounds as one of his sides “worst performances” of the year and felt his team were much improved by the time Bray travelled to Tallaght when the Hoops won 2-0 at the end of May.
“The game out there (in Bray) at that point of the season typified our performances. We were good for 10-15 minutes and then we were bad for 10-15 minutes. We got punished and the game was over.
“We showed when we played them in Tallaght that we were a different team at that stage of the season and I think it’s important that we show that again. We just need to perform to our levels and our standards.”
Graham Burke and Dave Webster continue to be out injured, with Brandon Miele suspended, but Bradley praised his strength and conditioning coach for having such a full squad to choose from as the season comes to a conclusion.
“If you look at our injuries over the season we haven’t had many muscle injuries and I think that’s credit to what Darren Dillon has done with the lads. It’s how we train as well. The ones we’ve had have been serious injuries and impact injuries.”
Referee: Graham Kelly
Gary McCabe is Bray’s top scorer with 15 in the league – when at Rovers he scored 12 goals in each of the 2013, 2014 and 2016 seasons. He is joint third in the overall league scorer table this year. Gary Shaw is top scored in the league for Shamrock Rovers with 11.
Rovers had yet to draw an away game in the league this season.
The 4-2 win by Bray over Rovers in the Carlisle Grounds earlier this year was the first time they had scored four goals against the Hoops. It was also their first win over Rovers in six seasons.
Bray 13/5; Draw 5/2; Shamrock Rovers Evens.
Bray 0 – 1 Shamrock Rovers
Injured: Tim Clancy, Kevin Lynch
Suspended: Ryan Brennan, Hugh Douglas
Injured: David Webster, Graham Burke
Suspended: Brandon Miele