Opposition Watch: Bray Wanderers

Treaty United begin their first season in the Airtricity League First Division with one of the toughest fixtures they could have asked for as they travel to the Carlisle Grounds to take on Bray Wanderers.

The game was scheduled to take place on Friday evening but will now take place on Sunday afternoon (3pm) due to Bray goalkeeper Brian Maher’s inclusion in Jim Crawford’s Ireland U-21 squad.

HISTORY: There is a rich history of football in Bray which began early in the twentieth century. The original club was founded in 1922 and much like football in Limerick, operated under many different guises in the following years. In 1943, there were three clubs from the Bray area plying their trade in Division 3 of the AUL League; Bray Wanderers, CYMS and Commercials.

SSE Airtricity League Premier Division, Carlisle Grounds, Wicklow 21/9/2018 Bray Wanderers vs Limerick A view of Carlisle Grounds ahead of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

The 1950’s brought about great success at junior level for Bray Wanderers as they won the FAI Junior Cup in 1951 and 1954 while also moving on to win the FAI Intermediate Cup in 1956 and 1958 as they club began to make their mark. Bray Wanderers officially joined the League of Ireland in 1985 and won the First Division title in their first season.

The club’s finest hour arrived in 1990 when a hattrick from former Kildare County manager John Ryan saw the Wicklow outfit beat a Pete Mahon led St. Francis 3-0 to lift the FAI Senior Cup.

In 1999, Pat Devlin’s Bray won the club’s second FAI Senior Cup with a 2-1 win against Finn Harps in the second replay between the sides. Renowned League of Ireland scorer Jason Byrne scored the winner.

Bray have won the First Division title on three occasions with the most recent being in the 1999/2000 season and they have rarely spent more than two seasons in the second tier.

Tommy Barrett and Bray manager Gary Cronin before a clash between Bray and Limerick FC in 2019 Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

KEY PLAYERS: Bray have made a number of significant signings ahead of the new campaign including Conor Clifford, Brandon Kavanagh and Steven Kinsella. However, maintaining the majority of players from last season’s squad was equally important for manager Gary Cronin. Below we have a list of three key players for Wanderers.

Brandon Kavanagh: Brandon Kavanagh is building a big reputation in the Airtricity League ever since his days as a youth player at Shamrock Rovers. He is currently on loan at Bray for the 2021 season from the Tallaght based club.

He is a technically gifted player who also benefitted from the inclusion of Shamrock Rovers B in the 2020 Airtricity League First Division despite the controversy it caused. When it was confirmed that the team would not be included in this year’s league, Kavanagh had already been snapped up by Cronin.

He is a very skillful and energetic player who is highly thought of at his parent club and will certainly cause a lot of problems for Treaty among many other sides.

Conor Clifford leaves the field at the Markets Field during his time with Limerick FC

Conor Clifford: The 29-year-old is one of the most travelled players in the league and considering this is the League of Ireland, that is saying something. There had been high hopes for Clifford when he was at Chelsea from 2007 to 2013 but Bray are the 15th club of his career.

Since his return to Ireland, he has played for Dundalk, Limerick FC, St. Patrick’s Athletic and Derry City. He has always began positively at each club but never lasted more than 18 months with any. It is a big chance for the central midfielder to show his quality which we saw glimpses of in Limerick in 2018.

He will be an asset from set-pieces as he is an established penalty taker and adept with free-kicks and corners. Fitness has generally been an issue in the past but with a full-pre season under his belt, Clifford will be eager to play regularly as he enters the latter part of his career.

Kieran Hanlon (pictured here in action against Bray in 2015, will be hoping to cause problems for Aaron Barry on Sunday Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Aaron Barry: The imposing centre-back was a crucial signing for Cronin. He provides a real target for the likes of Clifford from set-pieces which will be crucial in the First Division.

It is fair to say that Barry has yet to rekindle the form which saw him make 130 appearances for Derry City between 2014 and 2017 but his experience will be vital as he is surrounded by young players in the defensive areas including Andrew Quinn, Sean Callan and talented goalkeeper Brian Maher.

How did they Perform last Season: The 2020 season ended in bitter disappoint for the Seagulls as they missed out on automatic promotion on the last night of the season having been in pole position for the majority of the campaign.

A poor run of 1 win from their last 5 games allowed Drogheda United to make up the ground which ultimately sent Bray into the dreaded play-offs.

They met an in-form Galway United side and for the second time in a week. the Tribesmen beat them 0-1 to consign Cronin’s charges to another season in the second tier.

Jack Lynch in action at the Carlisle Grounds last season for Galway Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

The season was built upon a solid defence at home as they only conceded 3 goals at the Carlisle Grounds in 18 games. They had identical home and away records with 6 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses from 9 games.

Expectations in 2021: As you may expect, the Bray management team and playing staff have made no secret of their ambition to return to the Premier Division for the first time in four seasons.

The club will be looking to avoid the lottery of the play-offs on this occasion and they may benefit from the fact thay Galway and Shelbourne are stealing most of the headlines with their move to full-time football and their high profile signings.

That will certainly suit Cronin but he has made some shrewd signings also. As previously mentioned, Clifford and Kavanagh will add plenty of creativity to the midfield but former Newport County man Mark Byrne, former Drogheda winger Richie O’Farrell and former St. Pats striker Steven Kinsella will also add a new dimension.

Tadgh Ryan will be hoping to prevent Gary Shaw & co from hitting the back of the net on Sunday Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Bray will need a regular goal scorer and the burden will fall on Gary Shaw to fire the Seagulls to the promised land. Central midfielder Darren Creaven was signed from Leinster Senior League side Malahide United and has been hugely impressive in pre-season.

Personally, I think Bray will be sandwiched between the duo of Galway and Shelbourne in second place. The added experience has been well documented but the impressive signings of loanee Andrew Quinn from Dundalk and the aforementioned Creaven, O’Farrell and Kinsella adds an exuberance and energy to the squad which will also provide added competition.

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