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Thursday 15 November 2018

O'Driscoll aims to build future for Wanderers

New Bray owner wants fans to re-engage with club

NEW BEGINNING: Bray Wanderers and Cork City players get ready for the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match at the Carlisle Grounds on Friday. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
NEW BEGINNING: Bray Wanderers and Cork City players get ready for the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match at the Carlisle Grounds on Friday. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Twelve months ago, the people in charge at Bray Wanderers were telling the world of their plans to build a facility which would be on a par with Manchester United and Barcelona.

A year on and the new owners of the club, still bottom of the Premier Division and needing a miracle to avoid automatic relegation, have a different perspective.

"Are we going to be a Shamrock Rovers or a Dundalk? No, we are Bray Wanderers, and whatever than will mean in one or two years, that's where we will go," says Niall O'Driscoll.

He's a figure familiar to many on the football scene, f rom his connections with St Joseph's Boys and also his business interests.

Now O'Driscoll is the main shareholder in Bray Wanderers, having completed the purchase of the club from Gerry Mulvey last week.

There was no 'bounce' for the first team, as happens when a new manager comes in, as Bray lost 3-1 at home to Cork City on Friday night, and a win for Limerick FC means Bray are nine points away from ninth place, the finish they need to at least get a relegation playoff spot.

But there was a bright spot for Bray with the appearance of local lad Cian Walsh (17) in the first team, taking on the champions.

But O'Driscoll is aware that the last 12 months have been the most traumatic in the club's history. He's keen to build bridges with those previously loyal to the club who were burned by the previous owners.

Business card

O'Driscoll even passed out a business card, with a dedicated email address and even his own mobile phone number, to fans at Friday's game at home to Cork, eager for them to engage again.

"To build a club you need people and my first job, as you have seen, is to get people back into Bray Wanderers," says O'Driscoll, claiming to have received 30 offers of help in the first few hours after the email account was set up.

Bray Wanderers majority owner Niall O’Driscoll. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Bray Wanderers majority owner Niall O’Driscoll. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

"We'll get the children involved and enthused, we will work in the schools and in the local community. Yes, there is a whole group of people who were here and have gone.

"I have been approached by the supporters club who want to get going again, the junior supporters club, whatever time people can give it's one hour, washing the windows or marking the pitch, whatever they give let's go with it."

The previous plan for Bray, as admitted by the previous owners, was to sell the Carlisle Grounds (which the club doesn't own, funnily enough) and move to a state of the art facility somewhere in the county.

Last summer, then chairman Gerry Mulvey promised "a world class football academy to rival the best in the world". He said he would "seek from Wicklow County Council the rezoning of the land in the Carlisle Grounds with the development proceeds used to fund the construction of what will be the best Academy and sporting Grounds in the country".

That clearly didn't happen and Bray, with a weekly wage bill of €10,000 in the first half of the season, got bogged down in debt, leading to players balloting for strike action due to unpaid wages.

Staying in the Carlisle Grounds, and making the faciltiy more accessible to the local community, is now the goal. And the new owner says the days of largesse are gone.

"You put in a budget to run for a season and you manage as you manage any budget, as you manage your bank accounts at home.

"I am a great believer that if you have one euro, you spend one euro and not two," O'Driscoll said.

"The development of young players, introducing them to the National League will be a strategy, rather than going out and paying a thousand a week, that we don't have, to a player, That won't happen. We will cut our cloth to fit.

"The strategy is to build a club first, attract the best young talent we can, get the best young coaches we can and go build a club and see where it takes us.

"Do I know what I have let myself in for?

"No, I will let you know in six months."

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