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Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Bryan Keane/INPHO Pat Devlin (file pic).
# Compromise
'Fans need to understand that what we're trying to do is in the best interests of all concerned'
Pat Devlin discusses the Bray-Cabinteely merger and looks ahead to the new First Division season.

PAT DEVLIN is now in his fifth decade working in the League of Ireland.

36 years have passed since he first took over as Bray Wanderers manager.

Yet despite his wealth of experience in the game, he has faced an unfamiliar challenge in recent months.

In November, it was announced that Bray Wanderers and Cabinteely would amalgamate at all levels.

Devlin had been Director of Football at Cabinteely and will maintain that role in this new entity, which is keeping the Bray Wanderers name and the club will play home matches at the Carlisle Grounds.

“It’s challenging for everybody, players, staff, admin,” he says. “All the stuff that you wouldn’t ordinarily think of.

“We’ve done a huge, huge job off the pitch. And we’ve done a huge job on the pitch.”

And what has been the reaction been like to this new venture?

“A lot of people don’t like change. People like you, some people don’t like you. Some people like some players and don’t like other players. Some players like nice clothes and other players like to dress down.

“I think, eventually, the results on the pitch will bring everyone together. I really genuinely feel everybody has embraced it. I think we’ve sold more season tickets this year than they’ve sold in recent years.

“So I think results will encourage people in. It’s the way forward. It’s definitely the way forward at the moment because it ain’t going to change. So you either buy into it or you don’t.

“If certain people don’t want it, well they don’t want it. Either they come along and support the club or they don’t. We’re ready for action, we’re in and anyone who wants to be there is more than welcome. And anybody who doesn’t want to be there, we understand.”

He continues: “I don’t think it’s ever happened before in my lifetime with clubs. And there are different challenges. There are personalities, there are crests, there’s gear, there’s equipment. There’s letting people go, not letting people go. And then making sure people don’t take offence. And you’ll be making changes but you don’t mean to offend someone. And all of a sudden. you’ve offended someone and you didn’t even mean to. 

“It’s been a unique challenge for everybody. Cabinteely are our main partners and will be our main partners, in terms of providing the pathway, and will always be. We’ve also got Greystones, who are now our partners from the Women’s National League. And we’ve got the local clubs, who are all our partners as well. It’s a fantastic project and given a little bit of time, it’ll only get better and better.

“Genuinely, from [Cabinteely's] point of view, we’re very, very lucky that it happened. And I think equally, Bray Wanderers have been very, very lucky. Because if it didn’t happen, maybe Bray might have been struggling a little bit as well because [former Bray chairman] Niall [O'Driscoll], who did a great job, had enough and wanted to move on and that was his decision. He was fortunate enough we met someone like [the new chairman] Tony Richardson who will come on board and help us develop it. I think everybody has gained from it. 

“I do think it will be successful. Will it be successful this year? I’m not so sure. It needs a little bit of a transition. Players need to come together. Fans need to understand that what we’re trying to do is in the best interests of all concerned in the local area. There’s no Cabinteely anymore, there’s no Bray Wanderers, we’re all the one and we need to buy into that. And that’s a big challenge but I do think it will happen if we get the right results.”

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The merger inevitably meant that the original squads and staff had to be trimmed. Having these difficult conversations with individuals, Devlin adds, was the hardest part of the process.

“You’re dealing with human beings, they’re not little robots. You’ve got to go and speak to them. Some people understood it. And some people didn’t understand it. If people look at it purely from a footballing point of view, I think we were very, very fair, very understanding with everybody. Those who wanted to stay stayed. And those who wanted to go went. And those who really wanted to be part of it, we found a role for them. It’s very hard to find good people. And all the people in Bray were very good people. Those who wanted to move on, Gary [Cronin] or whoever, they’d done a fantastic job and we wished them all.

“But we couldn’t keep everybody. It was an impossibility. Somewhere along the line, we had to say: ‘Right, let’s get on with this.’ There had to be changes and there had to be some hard changes. And even going forward, there will have to be hard decisions to be made. You have to accept that from a football point of view. On the personal side of it, it was a really difficult one.

“We’ve pulled together a fantastic management team, I’ve got Eddie Gormley, I’ve got Paul Heffernan. I’ve brought in Kellie O’Neill and John Power now. So we’re geared for success. Now, if we’re not successful, someone will be coming to me and saying ‘well, we need a change’. That’s football, you have to accept it. But it was really difficult, particularly with the younger kids because you were bringing two squads together. And our priority was to facilitate the Cabinteely and Bray players. And then you have managers who have their own thoughts on the ability of certain players and who they want to bring in from the outside.” 

With three full-time teams in the First Division — Waterford, Cork City and Galway — Bray will have their work cut out competing as they prepare for their first game at home to the Leesiders tonight, and Devlin says getting to the play-offs would represent success in 2022.

“Now, we’re training Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and we’re as close to full-time as you could ever be. But that’s a challenge for fellas who are coming in after work whereas if you’re full-time, you’ve everything available to you. We’ll give it a right go. But I do think the edge is with [the full-time teams] and they’ve more settled squads than we have.”

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