Article by Kieran Burke – @Kieran_b_sport
Two-time League of Ireland winner Kurtis Byrne has confirmed his retirement from professional football after a turbulent season on and off the field at Bray Wanderers. The former Dundalk FC star confirmed in an interview with Between the Stripes LOI podcast that he had called time on his career having grown frustrated with events both on and off the pitch at the Carlisle Grounds this year.
“I retired a few weeks ago, I made the decision with the way the season was going (at Bray) and with the new career I have with my new job, it just made sense to hang up the boots and play a bit of amateur football”, said Byrne when asked if he had officially retired.
Despite making the decision to call it quits a number of weeks back, there had been no official confirmation from the club in regard to Byrne’s status. A number of other players are also rumoured to have left the club throughout the season with no updates being provided publicly by Bray Wanderers.
Now aged thirty-two, it has become more common within the league for players to retire in their early thirties but Byrne revealed he had not gone into the 2022 season with the view that this would be the final season of his League of Ireland story. However, he stated that “how things developed (at Bray), it made sense to retire.”
— Athlone Town AFC (@AthloneTownAFC) August 21, 2021
When asked to delve slightly deeper into some of the issues he encountered at Bray Wanderers this season, which he felt led to his ultimate decision to call time early on his pro career, Byrne indicated he felt there was a lack of standards at the club when it came to professionalism, training standards and coaching.
“With training, you’d nearly feel sorry for some of the coaches, there were a lot of coaches as well but you’d have thirty players on an eleven-a-side pitch.”
“Some of the players that were coming up for trial were wearing Celtic and Bayern Munich jerseys.”
“Me and the lads would say who won the crossword in the paper this week for a trial because some of the players coming up just weren’t good enough and it lowered the standard of training which was frustrating.”
“It was just madness at times the amount of players that were training including trialists”, remarked Byrne.
The writing had been on the wall quite early for Bray Wanderers this season, who could yet finish the season as low as eighth in the nine-team First Division, with the Wicklow side hammered 6-0 in front of their own fans on the opening day of the campaign by eventual champions Cork City. Byrne, who’s also played in the league with clubs such as Bohemians and St.Patrick’s Athletic remarked that after this defeat, problems started to emerge from all quarters.
“Pre-season actually went ok but then we went into the first game and boom 6-0 against Cork and we were thinking what just happened?”
“From there on it just fell apart all over the place….players leaving, secrets here and there, no gear, no nothing.”
“It was just a case of, what’s next, what’s going to happen next”, recalled Byrne.
— Bohemian Football Club (@bfcdublin) September 7, 2016
Having won everything on offer domestically under Stephen Kenny as well as having played in both divisions in Ireland and having enjoyed spells in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, Kurtis Byrne has experienced plenty of different dressing room dynamics during his footballing career. That makes Byrne’s claims that he’s never been in a dressing room like the one at Bray this season quite startling with the Dublin native describing the mood within the camp as “awful” prior to his departure a few weeks ago.
“(It was) awful, I can’t even explain it, I didn’t want to be there.”
“Going to training was like a burden, I didn’t want to go training, it shouldn’t be like that but I’m open and honest.”
“It came to a match day and of course, I wanted to play but in terms of getting a result, you had one coach telling you one thing and another telling you another, you weren’t getting one clear message, it was madness”, declared Byrne.
Attempting to shed further on the coaching setup at the club this season, Byrne remarked that it was almost as if “everyone had a turn” at taking the lead role at times during the year.
“I just don’t know how you can juggle five or six coaches, everyone had a little turn it seemed, it was Eddie (Gormley) at the start then Collie (O’Neill) came in and took over, then it was back to Eddie, then Graham O’Hanlon came in and he had his ideas and then Pat (Devlin) would throw in his opinions as well, it was just madness”, insisted Byrne.
Asked why he felt there had been such a merry-go-round feel to the coaching setup at Bray Wanderers this season, Byrne said he felt Devlin just wanted to give people a chance but issues began to escalate when too many coaches became involved in the first-team picture.
“I think Pat (Devlin) just took them in and gave them a chance and it just escalated, there were more and more coaches and then every week there was something new happening with a coach coming in or a coach leaving but there was just no honesty”, commented Byrne.
As referenced earlier, a number of players and coaches have come and gone at Bray Wanderers this season with the club opting not to speak publicly on such matters and this was something that clearly irked Byrne and some of his teammates within the dressing room.
“If a player left the first thing I’d do as a manager is say Sean has decided to step back for a while, he’s left the club and we wish him all the best, we move on”, said Byrne.
In the off-season, it was announced Bray Wanderers would be merging with Cabinteely, following a successful takeover of the Seagulls, a move which has proved deeply unpopular with the club’s supporters. A banner reading “we want our club back” was displayed during last Friday’s 5-1 defeat at home to the division’s bottom side Cobh Ramblers. There have also been some high-profile incidents involving traveling Bray support this season, most notably at a fixture in Longford when Gardai were required to deal with unrest in the away section of the ground. Byrne insists it is the club’s genuine supporters he feels for after such a disastrous season.
Totally unacceptable behaviour from within the away end at Bishopsgate this evening as on the pitch Longford Town drew 1-1 with Bray.
These people need to be dealt with immediately pic.twitter.com/ZI7k5JsVxR
— Between the Stripes (@betweenstripes) June 10, 2022
During the course of the interview, Byrne recalled a story in which he claims players were given the opportunity to voice concerns or suggestions on how things might be improved at the club. Byrne feels that a text conversation between him and one of the club’s coaching staff, in which Byrne questioned the need to leave early in the day for a trip to Longford, led to a team meeting being called in which Pat Devlin accused an unnamed player of going behind his back trying to make changes.
“He (Devlin) would never call it out but I knew, I wasn’t fooled by it, it was just little things like that.”
“There were meetings every week where players had been talking and it was lads if you aren’t happy you can be on your way so I think as the season went on then players started to say right ill be on my way then.”
Since departing Bray and announcing his retirement from the professional game, Kurtis Byrne has signed with Leinster Senior League outfit Bluebell United. As for Bray Wanderers, they will play their final game of the season in front of a sold-out Turners Cross on Friday night, as hosts Cork City get ready to lift the First Division title. Where the Seagulls go from there in regards to next season remains to be seen. When asked what he feels needs to change at Bray in the off-season, Byrne was quite clear about what department of the club he would be making alterations in.
“I really don’t know what’s going to happen there (at Bray) to be honest with you, this year has been a disaster on and off the park and as players, we have to take some of the blame but certainly, something has to change with the coaching, it just wasn’t good enough”, concluded Byrne.
Bray Wanderers Football Club declined to comment when contacted by Between the Stripes LOI podcast ahead of the release of the podcast which can be found here or on all good podcast providers.