Brill: FA Trophy success set Orient off again in league title pursuit
PUBLISHED: 16:00 16 May 2019
Simon O'Connor Photography
We sat down with Dean Brill for our Redemption pullout to talk about the importance of the FA Trophy and his journey from coach to player again
The FA Trophy has proved to be a distraction for some teams in the past, but goalkeeper Dean Brill believes it was the opposite for Leyton Orient this season.
It allowed Justin Edinburgh's side to regain focus and, crucially, that winning feeling when points were harder to come by in the National League during winter.
A switch to a 3-4-1-2 formation produced a 2-1 win at Brackley Town in the quarter-finals of the competition and it was a catalyst for a brilliant run of form.
Orient won eight consecutive games, having lost three of their previous seven, and so instead of derailing their title challenge, it was actually the making of it.
Brill explained: "The manager is a winner, he wants us to be winners and this season as a whole we have been winners.
"The FA Trophy games in the early rounds were just games for us to go and win, but the Brackley match - where Dan Happe scored late on - after that we went on a nine-game unbeaten run.
"If you look at that, it was a great game to set us off again in the league and the competition has been invaluable really for players to get minutes while on their way back to full fitness.
"Obviously young Dan came into play through the FA Trophy too and he has gone on to have a great season and our mindset was always who wouldn't want to get to Wembley and win a trophy?"
After reaching the summit in September with an unbeaten run which stretched to 13 matches, the O's kept ticking along in October and November.
December was slightly tougher and this was when Orient started their FA Trophy adventure, with a 4-0 win over Beaconsfield Town at Brisbane Road.
January was difficult too with injuries piling up and a painful 3-0 loss to title rivals Salford City was a bitter pill to swallow.
Orient bounced back with a fine victory at Wrexham in the Trophy and although Jobi McAnuff, Craig Clay, Josh Coulson, Charlie Lee and Marvin Ekpiteta all picked up injuries, the cup run ensured they didn't miss many league games.
Josh Koroma was another to get injured, but the youngster and the other key members listed were all able to return for the final run-in.
After beating Beaconsfield, Wrexham and Blyth Spartans, O's needed all their spirit and resolve to triumph at Brackley, with boss Edinburgh pivotal.
He changed system at 1-0 down from a 4-4-2 to three centre backs, wing-backs and a number 10; it was a genius move by Orient's head coach and his staff.
Dan Happe, who had excelled in Coulson and Ekpiteta's absence, popped up with the winner - his first goal for O's - and it proved to be a turning point.
Edinburgh had a formation he could keep his three best centre backs in, while getting the best out of people like James Brophy and Jordan Maguire-Drew.
By the time Orient saw off AFC Telford in the semi-finals, it was eight wins in a row with the new and favoured 3-4-1-2 formation.
Things may have been different had Brill not been at his best in the first half of the Brackley tie, with O's lucky to be just one goal down in Northamptonshire.
When needed, Orient's number one delivered and it is sometimes easy to forget how crucial he has been to the overall turnaround.
When Edinburgh took charge on November 29, 2017, Brill was the club's goalkeeper coach with youngsters Charlie Grainger and Sam Sargeant vying for a starting berth at Brisbane Road.
He had been registered to play if required and he made his first appearance in over two-and-a-half years on December 2, 2017 away to Solihull Moors.
Since then, Brill has not missed a minute for Edinburgh's team and by the end of last season, he had signed a new contract and dropped the coaching duties.
It's been quite the journey and the former Luton Town number one admitted: "It is quite surreal when you look at the fact I signed for Leyton Orient as a goalkeeper coach and now I'm about to play at Wembley in the Trophy final.
"Obviously I am grateful to the club to be given the coaching role initially and then for the backing I received from the gaffer, Martin (Ling) and everyone else when it came to playing again.
"It is a dream to get the chance to play at Wembley again."
Brill has been there before and is no stranger to big occasions, so won't be fazed against AFC Fylde on May 19.
He added: "I've played in finals before. At Inverness (Caledonian Thistle) I lost on penalties to Aberdeen in the League Cup final and we actually went on to win it the next year, but I was injured, so I didn't get the chance to play.
"It is 10 years ago since I played at Wembley for Luton in what was then called the Johnstone's Paint Trophy. We won 3-2 so hopefully that is a nice omen."