The 2022 SSE Airtricity League First Division season was an unmitigated disaster for Bray Wanderers.
A catalogue of problems ravaged the Wicklow outfit causing an utterly toxic environment both on, and off the pitch.
It all began with the now infamous merger with fellow First Division club, Cabinteely.
Supporters from both sides were firmly left in the dark over the proposed amalgamation ahead of the 2022 campaign, which would be the catalyst for the woeful communication offered up by the club’s higher-ups throughout last year.
You’d assume Bray had ambitions of fighting for promotion with the influx of Cabinteely senior players. But simply put, large portions of the 2022 squad weren’t up to League of Ireland standards.
Under the guidance of Pat Devlin, the team consistently provided whimper performances, which seen their form nosedive as they finished seventh, 17 points off the play-off positions, and as the lowest scoring side in the division.
Fans weren’t happy. While we all seen the videos of thuggery behaviour by a small section of “fans” away to Longford. It was another incident involving supporters and Pat Devlin, following Bray’s 2-2 draw away to Wexford last May that really raised some eyebrows.
Devlin had to be physically restrained as he argued with travelling spectators. This incident truly dampened the reputation of the 69-year-old within the fan-base, despite his long-standing relationship with the club.
It was perplexing that Devlin wasn’t relieved of his duties swiftly following that episode. But it came to light he wasn’t only Bray Wanderers manager, he was, and still is the clubs Head of Football, and co-owner. Which in and of itself would raise questions on his conflict of interest.
No Trust In The Bray Board
His fellow co-owner Tony Richardson was subject to heaps of criticism too.
Richardson has been vocal on his ambition to see Bray Wanderers as a sustainable entity with a secure long-term future, and has been talking up his ideas for the club going forward.
Following the conclusion of the 2022 First Division season, Tony Richardson spoke with ‘Bray People’ about his aspirations for the club.
It’s no secret that the Carlisle Grounds is one of many League of Ireland venues that is crying out for a facelift, and Richardson hopes to announce plans on ground improvements in early 2023.
Speaking on the matter, Richardson said, “It’s a huge project. It’s north of a €10 million project. It’s underway and we’ve got some great people involved in moving that forward.”
He would add that his personal ambition would be to make Bray’s home ground into a 5,000+ stadium. When you consider the average attendance struggles to crack 1,000 locals, even throughout fruitful periods, makes that a complete pie in the sky fantasy.
While ground refurbishments, and a focus on the club’s academy system seem to be priority number one, we can forgive loyal fans for not getting overly excited about these promises, as only time will tell if they’re truly followed up on.
As will the prospect of Bray Wanderers going full-time in 2024, which is something else Richardson spoke about, “We need to move to a full-time arrangement, and I think realistically, 2024 is a sensible timeframe in which to try and achieve that.”
The fractured relationship between this club and its supporters is harrowing. As the Chairman talks about an admittedly exciting five-year plan with ground improvements, full-time football and the introduction of a in-house supporters club, it’s all seen as a glorified PR spin by the majority.
While the jury is still out on the off-field aspect of Bray Wanderers, the on-field personnel have been bolstered over the winter break.
Pat Devlin will controversially stay on as the club’s co-owner and Head of Football, but has been relieved of his managerial post.
Ian Ryan was appointed his replacement back in November on a two-year deal.
Ryan is a dynamic young coach that had a successful 18-month spell at Wexford, bringing them from First Division basement dwellers, to challenging for the play-offs. While they finished sixth in 2022, they only missed out on that final play-off spot by three points.
The new gaffer has acted quickly with putting his stamp on this under-performing Wanderers squad.
Experienced pros like Dane Massey, Dave Webster and Chris Lyons will be looking to add needed leadership to the ranks. Ian Ryan has raided his former employers by bringing in eight familiar faces from Wexford, including the likes of Luka Lovic, Conor Davis, Ger Shortt, and Conor Crowley.
Darren Craven from Longford Town, Max Murphy from Bohemians, Cole Omorehiomwan from Shamrock Rovers, and Jake Walker returning to the League of Ireland from Crumlin United round out the new recruits.
The likes of Hugh Douglas, Conor Clifford, Darragh Lynch, Paul Fox, Kevin Knight and Eoin McPhillips have all left during the off-season. With 18-year-old defender, Conor McManus getting a move to Premier League club Brentford during the January transfer window.
Only Callum Thompson, Jamie Callaghan, Zach Donohue, and goalkeeper, Stephen McGuinness remain on the books from the previous season, showing the extent of the rebuild job at hand.
How Will Bray Do In 2023?
The quality within the group has certainly taken a step-up in both the managerial hotseat, and on-field talent. If Ian Ryan can nurture a better atmosphere and environment within the group, this team has the capabilities to be nailing down one of those coveted play-off places.
Bookmakers have Waterford and Galway United as the front-runners for the league title, which is difficult to look past with their full-time arrangements. But, Bray Wanderers will surely improve on their final standing from their horrific 2022 run, while playing a much more attractive brand of football.
Not many will be doubting the ability of Ian Ryan, his background team and fresh batch of players in 2023.
However, when talking about the promises of improvement in multiple areas by Chairman Tony Richardson, we’ll revert back to a sentiment we used earlier, only time will tell.
Check Us Out!
TBKO League of Ireland YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/@thebigkickoffleagueofirela4048
TBKO Football Website – https://thebigkickoff.com/