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Proud Barry is still plaanning to make his presence felt at Warrenpoint; MATCH INTERVIEW; MAXIE SWAIN talks to Warrenpoint Town's BARRY GRAY.

Byline: MAXIE SWAIN

BARRY GRAY has thrown down the gauntlet to his successor Matthew Tipton, telling the rookie boss he can fulfil his managerial potential at Warrenpoint Town.

The colourful Welshman, who made his name in England with Oldham and Macclesfield before a goal-laden 18 months at Portadown, has never hidden his desire to become a successful manager, and was even touted as the heir to Ronnie McFall's throne at Shamrock Park last season before the crisis-hit Ports moved instead for Pat McGibbon.

Tipton is certainly not short on ambition, but neither is Gray who relinquished the reins of the club last week after 11 years in charge of the Milltown men.

He lives and breathes Warrenpoint Town, and has been the driving force in his club's unlikely rise through the ranks from the Mid Ulster right to the highest league in the land.

He could claim more credit than most for their startling success story over the past decade or so, but he's not interested in egos or kudos, only with the betterment of his team.

With Warrenpoint settled after last season's relegation, and perched at the summit of the Championship, he felt it was the right time to step down, particularly with a ready-made successor in situ and chomping at the bit for a crack at the management game.

"Tippy's energy reminds some years ago and his football and what he wants to do very matches what we want manager," said Gray.

"He wants to be a manager first and foremost and when we took him in, we understood that he needed to build up his experience in the management and coaching side of senior football.

"He comes with a raft of experience, but maybe not as much as he would like in terms of coaching and managing at a senior level.

"But he has been excellent us since he has come in.

"I made my decision to step this time because I felt it was for the new manager to take this season with an established group of players who are sitting top of the table, and with no major disruption in terms of Tippy stepping up, because the players are all familiar with him.

"And it gives him an opportunity in the January window to take in a couple of players who he might feel can help us and we can roll into the summer, and hopefully build on that if we get into the Premiership."

The appointment of Tipton, who initially joined the Point as part of Gray's coaching team over the summer, means the latter can now focus solely on his role as director of the club, rather than splitting his time between the two.

"The timing of it wasn't massively planned but finding a replacement has been my focus for a while now," explained Gray.

"I've been manager of the club for a long time and while we have had lots of positives, there is always somebody who can take it on a wee bit further.

"We had half that notion when we took Tippy in in the summer and it doesn't matter about me, it is what is best for the club.

"My position as director of the club and manager, there is a conflict there and if you want to be serious about moving forward, there needs to be a separation between the two.

"We've come through three years of Premiership football and if we go back to the Pr a very di Premiership next year, we are in different position than we would have been the first time we came up.

"We were forced into doing a lot of things the first time we came up into the Premiership, next time round, that won't happen. It was good for me last time being manager and director because I could always see the bigger picture, but you really need your manager just focusing on the team and results and working day-to-day with the team and just focusing on that.

"In terms of my role at the club, it doesn't really change. People have always unwittingly promoted me as 'director of football', I'm not director of football, I'm a director of the club and I will just continue to do what I have always done. My role will just be to assist Tippy in anything and everything that he needs along his journey which to be fair, when it was my journey, I maybe didn't have that, because I was the manager and director responsible for senior football so I didn't have that luxury, so that's the thinking behind it."

As the smallest team ever to scale the heights of the Irish League's top flight, the Point were always going to find the going tough.

Mirroring those teams of Junior stock who had blazed the trail before them, the likes of Dungannon Swifts, Donegal Celtic, Institute and Ballinamallard, Warrenpoint punched above their weight in their debut season but struggled thereafter, fending off relegation via a play-off in their second campaign in the Premiership before finally succumbing to the drop last May, albeit in the most dramatic of denouements for many a year.

But Gray bristles when asked if that is likely to be a recurring theme for his club as the underdogs of the Irish League, pointing to the club's track record of confounding expectations and insisting he'd rather give up than see the Point become perennial relegation fodder.

"I always make the comparison to this, everyone always said we couldn't do what we done, and we did, now that was a massive task but we did it against all the odds," he said.

"And then we stayed there against all the odds and with all our challenges. Now we're back down at the minute but this season is an opportunity for us to take stock, it has allowed us to make e a ca f change in management and to rebuild more youthful player pool going forward, and we have started that.

"For us, if we are going to go back to the Premiership and knock around the bottom two or three, then there's no point going back. From the management team that is there now, and the directors who are responsible for driving the club forwards, there is absolutely no intention from any of us tbpmafo a just to go back to the Premiership and futter around and say, sure it's great that we avoided relegation, that's not what the club is after at all.

"Obviously, we have a plan in place but we just can't do every-t h i ng thing in the fashion and the timeframe that we want because we are still building the club as a senior football club and that takes time."

Indeed, that is something Gray knows plenty about. Were it not for their relegation last year, he would be the second longest-serving manager in the top flight behind Stephen Baxter.

He took the reins in 2005 when the club were a mainstay of the Mid Ulster League's top tier, comfortably top half but without ever really contending for the title.

Their transform however, has been r on new r th transformation since then, remarkable. Seizing rules which allowed the best teams from Intermediate football to gain a foothold in the Irish League, Gray turned the Point into best team in the Ulster, and subsequently saw them to the Championship 2010, romping the the following year play-off victory over seasons later paved the historic bow in the I tur the Mid quen elected ship in division before a pla DC two seaso way for their his Premiership.

In spite of his ac insists the biggest from his long reign wteam comprised alm achievements, Gray satisfaction he got was in seeing a local almost entirely of local players go toe-to-toe with some of the biggest clubs and best-paid players in the country.

"There have been lots of ups," reflected Gray. "The last few years have been difficult because you've been fighting at stages in parts of the table that you don't want to be in and around.

"But this was my 11th season and there has been lots of success whether it was the Mid Ulster or Championhip 1 and 2.

"And even in the Premiership, we have had lots of good days and I suppose it is hard to pass the promotion night in Donegal Celtic as a stand-out moment, but then you have wee things like the relegation play-off against Bangor, they are stand-out times as well.

"But for me personally, there have been so many local players who have had the opportunity to play Premiership football for two or three years or whatever it may be and we're still giving young players the opportunity to maybe do that again so for me as a coach and a manager, that's what you want to be remembered for.

"We effectively took a squad of 20 players who had never played in the Premiership before and lasted a few years with them and that's no easy task.

"So there have been good times and that won't change, it's just that I'm not picking the team any more."

CAPTION(S):

WARREN-ING SH Gray was behind The Point'sLeague ascent, winning thChampionship 2 title in 20HOT t's Irish e 010

HL O ex them at hi IGHS ANDS OWS Gray xperienced he full range of motions while t the helm of is beloved club

night on the town Barry's boys celebrate their 2013 Premiership promotion, beating Donegal Celtic in the playoff final

premier point Warrenpoint's Mark Hughes in a top tier battle with Ards' Neil Dougan back in August 2013

tipt for success Matthew Tipton (left) has taken the reins at Warrenpoint after Gray stepped down last week
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 22, 2016
Words:1630
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