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Dublin: 3 °C Thursday 14 December, 2017
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'You get a bit sluggish, a bit tired, doing nothing all day'

In-form Bray attacker Gary McCabe tells The42 about how a part-time job is helping his game.

Gary McCabe has scored seven goals in eight games for Bray this season.
Gary McCabe has scored seven goals in eight games for Bray this season.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

GARY MCCABE AND Bray Wanderers are flying at the moment.

The Seagulls currently sit third in the league, with only Cork and Dundalk ahead of them.

In their opening eight games, they have won five and lost three, overcoming St Pat’s, Finn Harps, Drogheda, Derry and Galway, while losing out to Bohemians, Sligo and Limerick.

Only time will tell whether they can better last season’s finish of sixth place, although the initial signs are certainly promising.

It’s early days yet, of course, but based on how the campaign has panned out so far, McCabe looks to have been one of the signings of the season.

With seven goals, only Cork striker Sean Maguire is ahead of the Dubliner in the Premier Division goalscoring charts.

While he managed 30 goals in a five-year spell with Shamrock Rovers, McCabe has never hit double figures in a single season, though the way he has started 2017, it would be a major surprise if the 28-year-old doesn’t finally buck this trend.

Moving to Bray from the Hoops and returning to part-time football may have been viewed as a step down by people on the outside, but McCabe doesn’t see it that way.

Often deployed as a winger or deep-lying midfielder, Bray manager Harry Kenny had the conviction to play McCabe in his preferred number 10 position — a role he had occupied before but only on a few occasions with his former club.

The move has reaped dividends, with both the player and the club benefiting as a consequence.

“I’m very happy with the position I’m playing in,” he tells The42. “I started playing there under Stephen Kenny and Pat Fenlon a few times, but I was getting played out of position (in a deeper role) a few times last year.

I’m delighted now, I’m just really happy to be playing the position, and even with the players around me, we understand each other a lot better. It’s just working out for us, it’s just clicking, so long may it continue.”

Gary McCabe McCabe joined Bray from Shamrock Rovers last December. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Yet despite these positives, McCabe is not completely satisfied with his game at the moment.

People might think because I’m scoring goals I’m playing well, but not to my standards. I’d still like to be playing better and hopefully (still) chipping in with goals.”

Tonight, McCabe and co face what is undoubtedly their stiffest test of the season so far, as they travel to Oriel Park to take on Dundalk.

But buoyed by their great start to the campaign, McCabe says his side will not approach the game in a fearful or overly cautious manner.

We’re not going to sit back or hold out for a draw. We’re going to push on. We want to go up the table and these are the teams you have to beat to be up at the top of the table.

“We’re not worried about (Dundalk), we know they’ve made a couple of changes, they’ve lost a few players. But we’re more concentrating on how we’re going to play and how we’re going to win the game.”

After a career in youth football that included spells at Shelbourne, Cherry Orchard and Crumlin, McCabe made his League of Ireland debut with Bray as a 17-year-old.

Before then, he has been going “back and forth to different trials” in Britain. A proposed move to Stoke fell through, while others were also interested, but “nothing came out of it, which is a pity, but that’s life”.

Gary McCabe gets past Conan Byrne A teenage Gary McCabe pictured playing for Bray. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Nowadays, the club is far different compared to the Bray side he made 65 appearances for between 2007 and 2009.

It’s a different mindset. We want to be pushing for Europe this year. The players are a lot better now than they were a while ago. You can see the standards have been set bigger by the club.

“They’re a club that doesn’t want to be fighting relegation every year, being happy with 7th or 8th position. They want bigger and better things and you can see by this year that they’re succeeding.

It feels so much better now. We’ve a new training ground facility (in Stepaside) that we’re only after going into this week. The manager, the lads behind the scenes, the chairman, it’s so different. It’s more of a family-run club, everyone’s close together and it’s very good.

“They’re doing everything right for us (behind the scenes), and the players are responding as you can see with the results.”

After his first spell with Bray, McCabe joined Sligo when he was still only 20 years old. The youngster’s spell at the Showgrounds was short-lived, though it also coincided with his first taste of silverware, as the Tallaght native was part of the side that won both the FAI Cup and the League of Ireland Cup in 2010.

It was a great year of my life,” he recalls. “I was successful up there — they were the first trophies I won, playing full-time football in a good town. But I think the year was long enough for me up there. I got the offer to come back to Tallaght. I took it and just kicked on from there. There were a couple of other clubs (interested), but once Rovers came in, I ended up signing for them.”

While McCabe was sad to a degree to leave the Bit O’Red after just one campaign with the club, off-the-field issues trumped success on the pitch.

“You were finishing training at half 12 or one o’clock every day, and there’s not much to do in Sligo — going to the cinema and going for coffee, there’s only so much you can do it. So it got a bit boring towards the end and I probably couldn’t have stuck another year.”

Gary McCabe McCabe was part of the Sligo side that finished third and won the FAI Cup in 2010. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

McCabe moved on to Shamrock Rovers and the decision worked out perfectly initially at least. Under Michael O’Neill, they won the Premier Division title in the player’s first season at the club in 2011.

It got better from there. Rovers became the first-ever Irish side to qualify for the Europa League group stages in the 2011-12 campaign. McCabe even played an integral part in the club achieving this feat. In the first leg of their qualifying play-off with Partizan Belgrade at Tallaght Stadium, the youngster’s brilliant 81st-minute equaliser kept the tie very much alive going into the second leg, in which they earned a historic victory. “That was something I’ll never forget,” he adds.

Source: Gleth678/YouTube

Yet the club never really built on their unprecedented success in Europe. Michael O’Neill departed to become manager of Northern Ireland, before Stephen Kenny took over for an ill-fated stint in charge.

It was so hard to follow in Michael’s footsteps. If the next manager didn’t qualify for the Europa League, it was always going to be frowned upon and so on, especially when you’re not winning a trophy. It was such a pity that Stephen Kenny came in after and didn’t have such a good run. If he maybe got more time as he did with Dundalk, it might have happened with Rovers. But results keep you in jobs, so it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Even after Kenny’s departure, Rovers never hit the heights expected of such an illustrious club. In the five seasons since their title triumph, they have never finished higher than third.

McCabe was as frustrated as anyone else by the continuing lack of progress at the club, and ultimately left the Hoops for Bray back in December.

I was happy to go,” he says. “It was time for a change. It was just sort of getting dead up there. There were so many players coming in and out. It was just the right time to step back and let the younger lads come through. I’ve gone to a big team now with Bray, talking with the chairman, talking with the manager, we’re only going to be pushing on.

“We’ll be challenging second, third and fourth position, so I don’t feel as if it’s been a step down. I feel like we’re on a level playing field with Rovers at the minute. We’ll just see how the season goes and hopefully we can just keep going the way we are and keep the results going.”

McCabe even feels Bray have the potential to challenge the likes of Dundalk and Cork for the title in the long term.

“I think that’s going to be the goal for maybe next year or the year after. They’ll be the bigger goals. We know we’re not going to win the league this year — there are stronger sides out there. But the position we’re in now we feel is our goal.”

Dylan Connolly McCabe has tipped young Bray winger Dylan Connolly for big things. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Aside from McCabe, another attacking player who will be key to the Seagulls’ hopes this season is Dylan Connolly.

The 21-year-old winger joined Bray at the start of the 2016 season after being released by Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich, and the youngster has been a revelation ever since. Despite being heavily linked with a move to a Dundalk side keen on replacing last season’s now-departed Player of the Year, Daryl Horgan, Connolly opted to stick with Bray for another campaign.

And McCabe feels his precocious teammate has the ability to go far in the game.

He’s a very good young lad. From playing against him last year, I didn’t know what the hype was all about. I’d played against him with Rovers two or three times and he didn’t really do much. But coming in now and playing against him in training and stuff like that, he has the quickness, he has the ability to go away to England. He just needs to keep up the performances on the pitch — he’s playing very well at the minute. With his speed alone any club in England will take him. He’s really good.

“We slag him and try to get him working on his first touch a little bit, but he’s alright, he knows what side of his game he needs to work on.”

McCabe was once thought of in similar terms to the prodigious Connolly, but having now spent over a decade playing in the League of Ireland, he consequently has the outlook of a hardened veteran.

His move to Bray coincided with a return to work outside of football, a decision he made in a bid to support his young family. And while players needing to take part-time jobs is often cited as a problem with the League of Ireland, McCabe believes the experience working as a sales merchandiser for Lucozade has actually been beneficial to his game.

I’m balancing with football with it, which is a good thing. I was only speaking to one of the lads the other day about it… You’re not sitting around waiting for training or sitting around after training. You’re constantly out enjoying yourself not watching telly all day, watching what you’re eating, you’re constantly on the move. I feel like my fitness has actually gone up a level.

“(Getting a second job is) something that I didn’t think I’d have to look into so young, but I’m glad I did, and it’s something I probably will stick to no matter who comes knocking next year.

I’m only noticing this year how bored I would be sitting around all day doing nothing. I know some of the younger boys that don’t have kids would be out enjoying themselves, but it’s a total difference when you have kids. You’re constantly sitting around waiting for training. You get a bit sluggish, a bit tired, doing nothing all day.”

Predictions

Every week, we’re giving readers the chance to take us on in predicting the Premier Division results. After Week 8, here are the standings:

The Readers: 24
The42: 23

Next up is Anthony Murphy from Tralee

The Reader (Anthony Murphy)

  • Bohemians v Cork City — Cork City win
  • Derry City v Finn Harps — Draw
  • Dundalk v Bray Wanderers — Dundalk win
  • Galway United v St. Patrick’s Athletic — Draw
  • Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers — Shamrock Rovers win
  • Limerick v Drogheda United — Draw

The42 (Paul Fennessy)

  • Bohemians v Cork City — Cork win
  • Derry City v Finn Harps — Derry win
  • Dundalk v Bray Wanderers — Dundalk win
  • Galway United v St. Patrick’s Athletic — St Pat’s win
  • Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers — Shamrock Rovers win
  • Limerick v Drogheda United — Limerick win

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