HAVING won the war against Dundalk, Bray Wanderers lost the battle against the Lilywhites as they were shot down in Oriel Park on Friday evening as the curtain came down on their 2012 Premier Division campaign.
Darius Kearns' side were the club who the Seagulls had to finish above to avoid the promotion/relegation play-off and Pat Devlin's charges managed to do so with a few weeks to spare. So that meant Friday's clash was a dead rubber affair for the Wicklow club, while for the Louth outfit it was their warmup tie for last night's first leg against Waterford United.
With last night's clash with Na Deise in mind, Dundalk opted to rest a few of their more valued players for Friday's clash, most notable club captain and former Seagulls favourite Chris Shields. Wanderers however opted to field a very strong starting XI as they looked to go out with a bang.
That bang turned out to be a whimper though in the end as the hosts secured a 2-1 victory over their distracted visitors.
The Oriel Park club got off to a dream start when they led inside two minutes. Lorcan Shannon was played in down the right and with the left hand side of Bray's defence nowhere to be seen, the winger played in a low cross that Danny O'Connor missed but Michael Rafter did not, as he swept home sidefooted past Darren Quigley.
The Bray captain looked to make amends for the opener straight away as he sauntered forward and nutmegged his man before playing a one-two with Dean Zambra and finding Jason Byrne, whose snapshot forced Peter Cherrie to turn over his own crossbar.
Having already proved he could finish, Rafter then proved he was equally capable of creating things when he poked through for Chris Reilly. The winger fired straight at Quigley though and when the rebound fell to Rafter he was unable to convert.
Bray's October player of the month Sean Houston then sent over a deep cross that Byrne turned back towards goal but the ball just wouldn't fall favourably for Zambra and then Kevin O'Connor's follow-up was bravely blocked by a Dundalk defender.
Rafter's all-action performance continued in the 20th minute when he chased down what seemed to be a lost cause but he managed to hustle Quigley off the ball as the goalkeeper attempted to see the ball into touch. Quigley's mistake wasn't punished though as Rafter could only find the side netting with his effort.
Bray's defence continued in this generous mood on 29 minutes when Cherrie's clearance was nodded on by Gareth Brady and this sent Rafter racing clean through but the striker hammered the ball into the advertising hoardings as opposed to the back of the net.
Wanderers almost hit back when Byrne cushioned Waters' cross into Kevin O'Connor's path but Cherrie denied the midfielder at his near post.
More lovely play from the extremely troublesome Rafter saw him control a long pass and release Reilly in an instant.
The midfielder guided his effort past Quigley but a linesman's flag scuppered his celebrations.
Rafter was taken off on the hour mark to give him some rest but his replacement, William Woods, proved he was no fool as he set up Shannon and his shot struck the inside of Quigley's right leg before flying behind for a corner.
Woods then broke the offside trap and the ball was slid across the turf for him but he somehow contrived to blaze over from straight in front of Quigley's goal.
Woods was handed a lesson in goal scoring two minutes later as Waters conjured up a goal of the season contender.
he ball was pinged out to him on the left and with seemingly nothing on, the attacker unleashed hell as he sent a devastating volley flying over the head of the flabbergasted Cherrie.
Unfortunately Waters' breathtaking strike was all for nothing as with 10 minutes remaining a Dane Massey howler was seized upon by Mark Leavy and he played the ball into the box for fellow substitute Barry Conlon to find the bottom corner.
Top Form: Michael Rafter (Dundalk).