There was no Bray Wanderers game this weekend. This wasn’t due to the events of the last week at the club, events which I’m hopeful will have a positive outcome and allow us to continue our fine season with the visit of Cork City next Sunday. No, the idle week was because we had already played the scheduled fixture against Shamrock Rovers – it was brought forward at their request due to their involvement in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League [congratulations to Rovers on their 2-0 aggregate win over Icelandic outfit FC Stjarnan].
Tolka Park is my usual alternative for my League of Ireland fix when Bray are inactive or playing away but Shelbourne were playing in Athlone [congratulations to Shels on a fine away win over Roddy Collins’ side] so I ended up in Stradbrook on Friday night, home of Blackrock College Rugby Football Club in the Ulster Bank All Ireland Rugby League and Cabinteely FC in the SSE Airtricity League First Division. ‘Cabo’ were hosting high-flying Cobh Ramblers.
Driving across the city to the game, I had been listening to Bob Dylan on Spotify and the song ‘Shelter from the Storm’ [from 1975’s ‘Blood on The Tracks’ album] had come on. It seemed opportune. It had been a tough week for anyone connected with Wanderers, and I just wanted to see some live football as an antidote.
My sombre mood was compounded by the sad news that Bradley Lowery had passed away earlier in the day. Bradley’s brave fight against incurable cancer had been an inspiration for many people and he had succeeded in uniting football fans the world over. I hope the little guy is at peace now.
I’d only been to Stradbrook once before, and that was last season when I clocked up visits to the last two League Of Ireland grounds that I needed to visit in order to gain membership to ‘The Twenty Club’ [the other was Ferrycarrig Park].
There were quite a lot of familiar faces in the crowd at Stradbrook. A lot of Bray regulars past and present come here due to the closeness to Bray and also the strong connections between Wanderers and Cabo – Pat Devlin is the Director of Football, and Eddie Gormley is Head Coach. Daire Doyle, Kieran ‘Marty’ Watters and Jason Byrne are all in the current Cabinteely squad. Various other Wanderers alumni both on and off the pitch have current roles with Cabinteely.
I almost missed the first goal, it came so early. It would have been a shame to have missed it, as it was a delightful effort by Kieran ‘Marty’ Watters. The first half proved to be an entertaining one, with Cabinteely dominant initially and then Cobh pressing for an equalizer.
The home side held their lead until half-time and went further-ahead early in the second period. A fine run and some silky skill from Watters resulted in a perfect pass to Paul Fox which was converted beautifully. The second half went on to follow the same pattern as the first, with Cobh gradually getting back into it and when they got one back through Coleman they pressed hard for a second but couldn’t quite succeed. The closest to another goal was actually a Cabinteely effort right at the end, a clever back-heel in the box from Watters that went narrowly wide.
The crowd at Stradbrook was small enough but the atmosphere was great. Having recently hosted the New Zealand national team, the side are building their profile and could well challenge for promotion next season. Currently they sit above both Athlone and Wexford in the table, with a visit to Athlone next up in the schedule.
Ultimately I never quite succeeded in getting the sadness of Bradley Lowery’s death or the situation at Bray Wanderers out of my mind. If I’d thought Stradbrook would provide refuge, it didn’t fully work. My choice of music for the return journey was chose deliberately – Wicklow band God Is an Astronaut’s third album ‘Far From Refuge’.