Thursday 23 November 2017

Devlin relishes high life with Seagulls

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

"THE WRONG place at the wrong time." When Pat Devlin describes the circumstances that led to him being appointed manager of Bray Wanderers last August, he does so with a wry smile.

Everybody else associated with the club can reflect on an inspired move, however. After a decade of scraping along, the Seagulls have found their wings this season under the guidance of a man whose on-off relationship with the club spans the last 26 years.

They were one of the few clubs that never got carried away during the Celtic Tiger and, as a result, Bray never finished in the top half of the table.

Having been relegated in 2009, they were kept up after the expulsion of Cork City in early 2010, but Eddie Gormley's squad were ill-prepared and looked set for the drop when the former St Pat's man stepped aside.

Devlin was asked to take over a side that was bottom of the Airtricity Premier League table and staring into the abyss.

Less than a year later, they go into tonight's clash with Dundalk at the Carlisle Grounds third in the table, unbeaten in five games, having only lost once away from home and doing something no other team has done this season, beating Shamrock Rovers. Twice.

"The heart ruled the head because I wanted to help out and try and survive," the 58-year-old explained of his decision to return. "I got tied up, roped in, handcuffed and everything else.

"Eddie decided he wanted to go and I'm left in the middle then and Eddie said, 'look, if you want to take it on, do.' It wasn't something that I had planned on, but I was sort of in the place and they needed somebody who wasn't going to get paid, who would do it for nothing and I was an easy target.

"It's nice to be where we are, but there is no point in getting carried away with it, I've been around too long for that."

While all around them have been cutting their cloth and adapting to a new world of financial constraints, Bray have just continued to do what they've always done.

The capture of experienced midfielder Gary Dempsey -- once one of the league's highest earners when he was with St Pat's -- has added a combination of class and clout to their midfield, while Ireland U-19 striker Conor Murphy has contributed much-needed goals.

After surviving the drop last season by virtue of Chris Shields' penalty shoot-out heroics in the play-off, they are looking up rather than down for the first time in years.

"Has the league levelled out?" he mused, "I don't think we've as many full-time pros, that can be a good thing or a bad thing, but the finance isn't there.

"The one club that's used to it is Bray, because we've always been in that position and, in that way, I suppose we have an advantage over others.

"It's still very tough. I'm involved now for 45 years at senior level and you don't get an easy game. Whether it's levelled out or not is for other people to say, but I think the standard is very high."

Attacking midfielder Shields is one player who has enjoyed a new lease of life under Devlin and his head coach, Keith Long. He says the Devlin effect has lifted the whole club.

"Pat fills you with confidence," he said. "He'd pull you aside and deal with you one-to-one and give you encouragement. If you're bad, he'll let you know, too, he's an all-round good man-manager and he helps out all of the young lads.

"We're enjoying being up the top of the table for a change. We're not scrapping for points and looking around, thinking about relegation. It's been good."

Irish Independent

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