At a public meeting hosted by Bray Wanderers FC in the Royal Hotel on Monday 20th February, Head Coach of the Seagulls Harry Kenny gave his clearest vision yet for the future of Wicklow footballers in general and Bray Wanderers in particular.
Kenny acknowledged the problematic opening games under his direct stewardship after his predecessor Mick Cooke had departed. With the weight of a disappointing opening season behind him Kenny then had to face the four of the top contenders in the Premier League in a row.
‘It was almost a poisoned chalice,’ said Kenny. ‘There was I in charge, we had low morale, lots of change behind the scenes and we had to play St Pat’s Athletic, Dundalk, Cork and Shamrock Rovers. We beat Pats but lost the other three.’
Such an opening stint as Head Coach might have put off a lesser man, but Kenny is made of sterner stuff.
‘As a professional footballer based over in Shamrock Rovers historically I had a negative image of Bray,’ confessed Kenny. ‘I saw them as potential relegation candidates. However, when I joined the club and moreover was promoted to Head Coach, I knew I wanted to change that.’
‘First of all I knew I had to deal with low morale,’ he explains. ‘I needed to move the surviving mentality to a winning mentality. And I needed fresh blood.’
With the next transfer window opening up in the summer break, Kenny picked up new players to bolster the squad. He also secured footballing heavyweight Liam O’Brien as assistant Head Coach.
The second half of the season saw Kenny’s vision come good. Game after game saw no losses. Winning began to be the norm. The fans increased in size and the buzz at the matches was palatable.
At the end of the 2016 Season Bray Wanderers came of age. It was a side worth considering. The Club finished at sixth place which was no mean achievement. Taking that football currency, Kenny took the off season as a time to really strengthen the squad. With the help of chairman Denis O’Connor, he build an impressive back room team bringing in strength and fitness conditioning, physios, dieticians, opposition analysts and fostered a belief in the players that they could do more than just survive, they could win.
He is poised now with a powerful squad capable of climbing further up the league. It is not unusual for Kenny for be asked by journalists if he can go all the way this season to which he shakes his head but smiles at the same time. ‘It’s a lot to ask,’ he says, giving little away.
To create a competitive first class squad also means building the career path for talented young Wicklow footballers. And here to his credit lies the future of the Seagulls. The U19s, now coached by his brother and fellow footballer Marc, and the U17s coached by Will Clarke, are all playing the same football as the senior squad.
The 4,2,3,1 format is in place across all elite squads. All Head Coaches are linked in to Kenny. If there is a talented young player down the line there is nothing to stop him rising through the ranks and straight onto the first squad.
‘We are building a pipeline of talented players so that Bray Wanderers will always have access to excellence in our county,’ says Kenny.
And with that in place, we encourage all the Wicklow mammies to put their sons on the pitch.