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'I wanted something new with Bray, next year we can challenge for the title’

Anto Flood chats to The42 about making the move home from Australia, and deciding against a return to St Pat’s.

Bray's Anto Flood in action against Drogheda's Ciaran McGuigan.
Bray's Anto Flood in action against Drogheda's Ciaran McGuigan.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

ALMOST EVERYONE THOUGHT the return of Anto Flood to the League of Ireland meant a return to Inchicore and a return to St Patrick’s Athletic — most of all the player himself.

Three years in Australia, with a day job scaffolding in blistering sun before training in the evening, had treated him well. With a tan on his back and his wanderlust quenched, home was calling the name of ‘Bisto’.

Despite being at the tail-end of his football career at 32, the striker still maintains ambition and that, he says, is what drove him away from re-signing for St Pat’s and towards an enticing project which was unfolding at Bray Wanderers.

When you open up the Premier Division table to see Pat’s bottom and Bray in second place, it is impossible to deny Flood made the correct call.

But he admits it was not an easy one to make following two seasons at Richmond Park where he developed cult-like status, with the affection mutual between player and supporters.

“I was treated with the utmost respect at Pat’s by the fans and by the board and the team. It is one of the best clubs in the league if not the best,” he says.

“There’s a good togetherness there in that club. It was weird to come back and sign for Bray but it’s the decision I’ve made and I’ve always looked for challenges. Bray was a challenge.”

The player had been in regular contact with Liam Buckley and it seemed ‘Bisto’ would line out alongside Christy Fagan once again to try and rekindle the magic of years past. But love is never the same twice and, as the saying goes, if you love something you have to set it free.

To say ‘Bisto’ had left with a bang would be an understatement, his final contributions being league-title-winning goals against Sligo Rovers and Derry City, but the gravy train was headed for a land Down Under as he emigrated to Australia shortly after.

His tap-in against Sligo Rovers was far less stunning than his goal-of-the-season contender against Derry a week later, the ball curling elegantly into the top corner after kissing the crossbar.

But his goal on the penultimate day of the 2013 season handed the Premier Division title to Pat’s before the striker’s celebration suddenly went viral: the childish innocence of football suitably defined.

Wandering from the stand, a stray Pat’s supporter found his way onto the pitch and was joyfully hoisted into the air by Flood following the iconic goal at Richmond Park. Ten-year-old Jack Cummins would later present the 32-year-old forward with his October SWAI Player of the Month award.

It was tough to leave Pat’s following the success which brought the club a first league title in 14 years, he admits.

Anto Flood celebrates with the trophy Anto Flood shows off the Premier Division trophy in 2013. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Not since the days of Brian Kerr and Liam Buckley’s first stint in charge in the late 1990s had the Saints dominated the Premier Division. The club now had upcoming Uefa Champions League qualifiers to look forward to and Flood knew it. But the decision was made long beforehand.

“Travelling was always in the back of my mind. I made the decision to go before I kicked a ball for Pat’s that season.

“The missus wanted to go and see the world and the decision was made. We have no regrets and are happy to be back in Ireland. They were three of the best years of my life.

“I still had a good feeling in my stomach after the way the season turned out.

“I missed out on the opportunity to play Champions League football with Pat’s and it was hard to let that go.

“I also had a good few offers from other clubs before I left, from abroad and from Pat’s. But it just wasn’t enough to keep me here because my mind was set. I was happy enough with the decision when I made it, so I stuck to my guns.”

Under the guidance of Buckley and assistant Harry Kenny, Pat’s won 21 of 33 games in 2013, scoring the most goals and conceding the least with a team which seems like a distant memory to the side which currently sits bottom of the Premier Division in 2017: Killian Brennan, Chris Forrester, Ger O’Brien, Brendan Clarke, Kenny Browne.

“It was a great team… an unreal team,” says Flood. “All around there were winners. It is something to look back on and something that was unforgettable. But I’m with Bray now and hopefully we can do the same here.”

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Indeed it was his old assistant manager who convinced Flood that his future lay further south at Bray Wanderers. Since taking over following the departure of Mick Cooke, Kenny has led the side away from the relegation zone and into second place in the table.

Following just two wins from their opening 16 games last season, Kenny led the Seagulls to sixth spot, while this season they look set to finish in the top three and bring European nights to the Carlisle Grounds.

“If I had went back to Pat’s I was back to where I was and I just felt that I wanted something new. That’s what I’ve done with Bray,” says Flood.

“We’re doing well, playing well and playing full of confidence. We just need to get that consistency going with not conceding and scoring at the other end. That’ll take us to where we want to be.

“Over the last couple of seasons Bray have been fighting relegation, but now we’re in a good position. The players, along with Harry and Liam [O'Brien, assistant manager] and the backroom staff — we have a team there that’s more than capable of surprising people.

“Probably not this year but next year we can challenge for the title, who knows.”

With seven league wins from their opening 12 games, Bray have been a nightmare for defences with an average goal tally of 2.1 per game so far this season.

This is in no small part to midfielder Gary McCabe, who has scored 11 goals, but also to the combination of Flood, McCabe, Aaron Greene and Dylan Connolly in attack, the players amassing 20 goals together.

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Flood has not started for Bray since suffering a calf injury against Limerick on 25 March and admits starting positions in manager Kenny’s XI do not come easy, with competition in attack fierce as the club push for a place in Europe next season.

“You can see now there is competition all over the place to get into the team. That’s the way it is, it’s healthy and long may it last.

“We are confident of scoring goals against anyone in the league. We’ve played everyone and given everyone a game already. I don’t think we’ve anything to fear.”

Last week presented a fitting milestone in the season. Flood’s past and present collided as Bray settled for a draw against Pat’s.

The point moved Bray above champions Dundalk in the table and into second. It was this time last season Bray had just one win after 12 games, with the threat of relegation looming.

Now it is Pat’s who are rooted to the bottom. Flood didn’t help the cause, mind, with a goal on the opening night of the season scored in the same net he won the league for the Saints, as Bray romped to a 2-1 win.

He maintains Bray are just taking it one game at a time and that anything achieved this season — cups or European football — will be a cherry on top of what has already been a season of rapid transformation.

“It would be a massive achievement for the club to get European football. But we’re just taking it game by game.

“We’re not putting any pressure on ourselves, we’re enjoying our football and you can see that in the way we play, we play freely, we play attacking football.

“There’s no pressure, we’re just there doing our job and enjoying it. If we finish in the top three that’s a bonus.”

Predictions

Every week, we’re giving readers the chance to take us on in predicting the Premier Division results. After Week 12, here are the standings:

The Readers: 38
The42: 37

Next up is Bray Wanderers fan James Hogan

Bohemians v Shamrock Rovers – Rovers win
Dundalk v Sligo Rovers – Dundalk win
Galway United v Cork City – Cork win
St Pat’s v Drogheda United - Draw
Finn Harps v Bray Wanderers – Bray win
Limerick v Derry City – Draw

The42 (Aaron Gallagher)

Bohemians v Shamrock Rovers – Draw
Dundalk v Sligo Rovers – Dundalk win
Galway United v Cork City – Cork win
St Pat’s v Drogheda United – Draw
Finn Harps v Bray Wanderers – Bray win
Limerick v Derry City – Limerick win

If you’d like to try your hand at forecasting League of Ireland results, get in touch by e-mailing pauldollery@the42.ie

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Aaron Gallagher

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