So fixture-release day 2018 has been and gone, and it’s still only 2017. How was it for you? Were you happy with your opening-day game? Or your closing-day one, for that matter? Did you identify some away games you’d like to pencil in, maybe even an overnight or two? Are there any stretches of matches for your club that look either very favourable or very difficult?
I clicked into the SSE Airtricity League website and printed myself out a nice colour copy of the fixtures. It has all the First Division games as well as the Premier Division. I treat myself to one of these every year. I’m looking at last-season’s one as I write. It’s well-worn and well-thumbed at this stage. Games circled for intended attendance that I never made it to because other stuff ‘got in the way’. Games I did get to that I hadn’t originally thought I would. Games that stand out in the memory for various reasons, some of them football-related, others family-related. So it is that, as the year and the season unfolds, the fixture list becomes intertwined with the other aspects of your life in ways that you can’t predict in advance.
Because I work shift my first task when the fixtures come out is always to match Bray’s home games with the weekends I’m off. This is the starting point for my season’s plans. I usually get to some away games as well, especially if Bray are playing Bohemians or St Patricks Athletic on a weekend I’m off, given that I live in the city.
Intentions are always good to trot out in advance but prove to be hard to live up to in reality. I’d like to see as much League of Ireland football as possible in 2018. That will mean going to see Bohemians or St Patricks Athletic as a neutral when I’m off and Bray are away further afield. I made it to Dalymount a few times last year as a neutral but not Richmond Park.
I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of First Division games again this season too. Shelbourne are within walking distance from me, so Tolka Park is always an option if Bray are away or if I can’t make it over to a home game. I’ll take in a few trips to Cabinteely as well, there is a good ex-Bray community out there, making Stradbrook feel like a home from home.
I think the First Division will be very exciting this year. The 10-team revamp has breathed new life into the second tier, and the new play-off system will ensure that the teams in mid-table will still be pushing for fourth spot late on. Likewise in the top flight, teams in seventh or eighth will be looking over their shoulders trying to avoid being overhauled and pulled into the play-off position.
With regard to Bray, there are lots of comments online about the fact that there are few announcements coming from the club. The reality is that Harry Kenny moved on and Bray have to replace him. I’m sure that’s in hand behind the scenes, and I’m sure the club are working on the budget for 2018 as well. A squad can’t really be assembled until the manager is appointed. It might look like the club are leaving things late – and they are – but anyone who remembers when Alan Matthews came in at the start of the 2014 campaign will remember how quickly the club went from having no manager or squad to putting together, on a modest budget, the heroic side that kept us up that year.