A 2017 season which started so brightly quickly turned into one of turmoil for Bray Wanderers as financial worries struck the club in what is an all too familiar tale in the League of Ireland.
While the ship was steadied somewhat following a tumultuous summer, with the Seagulls ultimately managing a respectable sixth-place finish, they head into 2018 with concerns over what can be sustained both on and off the field.
Former manager Harry Kenny’s departure to focus solely on his role with the FAI was another blow to the club, with the 55-year-old very much seen as the glue which held the team together during an extremely difficult second half of 2017.
Now new boss Dave Mackey, who’s had various jobs at Bray in the past, including assistant manager, takes on the major challenge of keeping Bray in the top flight with some star names having departed.
Crucial to Bray’s early-season successes last term were the performances of Gary McCabe, who will once again be a crucial attacking asset for Mackey.
Scoring 15 goals from midfield in 2017, the recently appointed Bray captain would have been a wanted man this winter.
It’s going to be a much tougher task this year, but if McCabe performs to his maximum and can near his goalscoring exploits of last season there’s every chance he can help keep the Seagulls stay in the division. Playing the role of leader is nothing new to the Dubliner and he will be the one setting the example for others to follow this year.
Key new arrival
Bray’s activity in the off-season has been relatively restrained compared to those around them.
However, one impressive addition has been Paul O’Conor, who will be one of Mackey’s go-to men in midfield.
Having had two-and-a-half successful seasons with Limerick, O’Conor’s most recent move to St. Pat’s on deadline day of the mid-season transfer window didn’t quite work out, despite him scoring two goals in the Saints’ end-of-season revival.
Now 30, O’Conor offers Bray some much-needed experience and quality in the middle of the field. If he can link up with our star man, McCabe, then this will give the Seagulls a fighting chance.
With the average age of Bray’s squad sitting at just under 25 a number of players could have been selected here. However, we have plucked for Bohemians youngster Dylan Hayes who joins the club after three seasons at Bohs.
While the 22-year-old’s chances were quite limited within a squad which has steadily improved under of Keith Long, the right-back has displayed enough of the right qualities to compete more regularly at this level.
The former Derby County youth player has been patient at Bohs but having made just 14 league appearances last term he will be hugely motivated to now kick on with Bray.
One to watch
Like Hayes, Sean Heaney is another youngster who will be looking to make the step up to the next level and prove to his former club what they’re missing.
Signing for Bray from Shamrock Rovers, Heaney spent the second half of 2017 on loan at First Division champions Waterford where he played 90 minutes at centre-back in all but one league game as the Munster club secured promotion.
Hugely experienced for his age, Heaney will likely be a key feature at the back for Mackey.
Stability will be key for Bray this season as they aim to come through the year with the off-field problems of the past not impacting on their on-field progress.
With a reduced number of teams, a strong Waterford side coming up and the likes of Bohs and Sligo recruiting cleverly there’s every chance Bray could quickly slip down the pecking order given they’ve lost players of Peter Cherrie and Tim Clancy’s ilk, not to mention their previous talisman Dylan Connolly left midway through 2017 to join Dundalk.
Mackey’s intimate knowledge of the club and Irish football in general will certainly be an asset but looking at the sides they’re up against it’s difficult to see them surviving.
Pundit Arena prediction: 10th
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