After a long association with Bray Wanderers, Pat Devlin is no longer calling the shots but the view from the outside remains split over which direction the club is moving in.
By Micheál Ó hUanacháin
The shock departure of Pat Devlin from Bray Wanderers recently threw the Wicklow club under a spotlight the man himself would not have welcomed if he was still en poste there.
Upon leaving the club, Devlin posed some serious questions that the board and its directors must face up to: Why does the town not support its club? Where are the fans we should have? Where are the sponsors we need?
A remarkable news conference a few days after the club announced that Alan Mathews was to be his successor did little to dispel the clouds of rumour, speculation and bitterness that had been swirling amongst certain supporters since the end of last season.
Devlin’s CV suggests he was manager in Bray for five separate periods, but despite his ‘absence’ to handled the Republic of Ireland B side between 2006 and 2010, when Tony McGuirk was followed by Eddie Gormley, he was never far away – often a visible and vocal presence in the dugout.
Once all of that ended with Devlin’s exit, it was noted that there were ‘two distinct camps – those pro-Devlin and those left behind’, but, in truth, there have been two camps in the town for a long time. Some felt that he should have used more Bray-born players, while others lauded his often shrewd recruitment of players.
Despite all of his success with the club, it remains a fact that the team were relegated four times on his watch. However, they also survived the relegation play-offs twice in recent years. Those stats shows just how many times the club has been down at the wrong end of the table.
Bray, with a population of just over 32,000, is the third-largest town represented in the League outside of Dublin, Cork and Galway. A football club should have little problem maintaining a decent support base there. So, in that regard, there is substance to Devlin’s complaint.
Attendances in the Carlisle Grounds are fickle, and peaked in their early years in the League. The likes of Longford Town and Finn Harps had similar experiences – a surge of support with early success, which gradually dropped to dismal figures as the League became a routine matter.
That’s a matter of hope, or lack of it. With a League dominated by a handful of teams, the best that most other clubs can hope for is a mid-table finish. The rest had to be content with escaping relegation. It’s not much to offer supporters, even if you succeed, as Bray has for a decade now.
There is definitely a limit to how often you can call on last-ditch support for a club. To encourage supporters, the potential to climb up the table, the hope has to be there, whether it’s eventually achieved or not. Without hope, what is there to cling to?
Hope doesn’t just spring eternal without some impulse. While Bray have done well to hold onto some of their homegrown stars over the years, neither Devlin nor any of the other managers have really found a way to get them to gel consistently as a team.
If the competition has opened up a little, as it seems to have done in the last few years, that gives all the clubs, and their fans, something bigger to hope for. Even a short-term winning streak can inject an element of hope – that intangible factor which can cement fans to the club for a sustained period.
If Mathews can achieve and maintain that, who knows what the future might hold for The Seagulls?
*Image courtesy of Sportsfile