Monday 18 December 2017

Daniel McDonnell: Those who care about Bray must consider starting over


Neal Horgan’s brilliant book ‘Second City’ chronicles the demise of Cork City, who were forced to start again in the First Division after the club hit the rocks financially. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Neal Horgan’s brilliant book ‘Second City’ chronicles the demise of Cork City, who were forced to start again in the First Division after the club hit the rocks financially. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

This Bray Wanderers story is going to end badly.

July is generally a fun month on the League of Ireland beat because the Premier League noise is muted, meaning the European exploits of Irish clubs can get plenty of exposure.

It's better for business when they do well. With Cork and Shamrock Rovers entering Europa League second-legs tonight with strong chances of progression, there should be good vibes in the air.

But Bray's woe has drained the enthusiasm and it is hard to be anything but pessimistic about the noises coming from their camp.

Club chairman Denis O'Connor dropped in some telling lines in his interviews this week.

He spoke about a change to paying players from week to week and then seeking the money to get to the end of the month. After that, it's about looking to the end of next month.


Granted, those time-lines could apply to a large number of local clubs who are always looking short-term.

The difference with Bray is that they are operating with a wage bill which means that a quick fix will be just that. Insecurity and a high level of expenditure are a dangerous cocktail.

With certain players earning around €1,000 per week, with bonuses on top, O'Connor must source a serious amount of cash to be able to convince the squad today that they will be paid for the remainder of the campaign.

Even if he manages to do that, where then does he find the support to do it all again next year? When the well runs dry once, the clock is ticking.

The experiences of Shelbourne, Drogheda and the old Cork City do not offer a compelling advertisement for prolonging the struggle. It's the hope that kills you.

Yes, there is always the chance that the crisis will, initially, draw a strong response from players who crave the belief that a solution can be found. Sometimes, it galvanises them.

In 2006, the Shels squad responded to a series of payment issues to unify and win the league.

The individuals involved in that effort still reflect proudly upon it. Defender Sean Dillon recently said it was his most enjoyable year in football terms.

Three years later, Paul Doolin's Cork City persevered through a tragicomic campaign to qualify for Europe even though the club was falling apart week by week.

Neal Horgan's brilliant 'Second City' book chronicles the demise, touching on all the highs, lows and false dawns.

Staff members left as bills were unpaid. At one point, the lights went out. Players walked down corridors of darkness before training every morning.

It bound them together on the pitch, with gallows humour a help as the business of playing football almost became a release from the chaos.

Both instances merely delayed the unhappy ending. Shels went bust in the winter of 2006 and have never really recovered. Cork City had to reboot at the end of 2009 which meant the European place went elsewhere.

A new trading company kicked off 2010 in the First Division.

Next year, the FAI launch their new 10-team Premier Division which is supposed to be the next phase of the league's development.

In an ideal world, a form of minimum standard would be applied but nobody is holding their breath on that front.

What they cannot do is kick that process off with a lame horse staggering through the winter, waiting for the men with the green screens to come along so they can be put out of their misery.

After the events of the past six days, it would require a serious leap of faith to believe that the Seagulls can emerge from this turmoil and actually play a part in this notional brighter future.

Cold, hard realism is required.

A stripped-down club qualifying for Europe would be bad for Irish football.

A stripped-down club taking a place in a 10-team Premier Division ahead of a stable unit with more potential would be bad for Irish football. The European places and matters pertaining to promotion and relegation should be decided on the last day of the season - not over Christmas.

But the fear in Abbotstown must be that uncertainty continues through to the December 1 deadline for meeting any wage commitments.

The FAI clearly fear the optics of a club falling apart midway through the campaign. But what is the point of delaying the inevitable, bar ensuring that players are looked after properly?


These are the relevant questions now. In Bray, there are disillusioned football fans who should already be preparing for what comes next.

FORAS, the fans' group that got Cork City back on its legs, should be in their phonebook.

The natural concern is that Bray lack the population and latent support to be sure of success if they pull the plug and start again. After all, the current Bray regime did inherit problems.

But there has to be a Plan B that is more nuanced than relying on O'Connor and Co to keep pulling together cash to meet bills created by rash spending.

That is the fastest route to a slow death.

Irish Independent

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