It wasn't just what he said, but it was the way he said it that blew their minds. Back in late October of 2008, Liam Bradley had just delivered an impressive interview to those charged with finding the new Antrim football coach. With his emphatic nature, Bradley spoke with conviction, painting a picture of where Antrim should be and how to take them there. He was almost through the door when he stopped, turned around and said: “Just so youse know. I'm a winner. Always have been.”
How Baker kneaded together side to get Saffrons risingCalling the shots: Liam Bradley never held back on instructing his charges while he was Antrim managerIT wasn't just what he said, but it was the way he said it that blew their minds. Back in late October of 2008, Liam Bradley had just delivered an impressive interview to those charged with finding the new Antrim football coach. With his emphatic nature, Bradley spoke with conviction, painting a picture of where Antrim should be and how to take them there. He was almost through the door when he stopped, turned around and said: “Just so youse know. I'm a winner. Always have been.”
The next day county secretary Frankie Quinn released a statement confirming Bradley as Antrim manager on a three-year term.
Jody Gormley's reign was just over and he modernised the structures. They moved training to Jordanstown and began to think more of themselves. The Tommy Murphy Cup presented a chance to reach Croke Park and win a competition. In 2006, they lost to Wicklow with a last-minute Tommy Gill goal. A year later, they made up for it.
In 2008, Gormley brought in Joe Brolly to help out with a bit of forwards coaching. Brolly testified it went as well as he expected, but left feeling they never truly believed they could beat Cavan in the preliminary round of Ulster. They played like it too, losing by five points.
After respect, Antrim needed a bit of tough love. They seldom come tougher than ‘Baker'. He told them the rest of Ulster didn't respect them. Only they could change that.
He brought Niall Conway and Paddy McNeill in as trainers, and Tony McCollum was much more than just a buffer between players, management and county board.
Bradley stood out on the field himself and urged his players on during sessions. His appetite and enthusiasm infected everyone.
Year one was the Big Bang effect. Recognising they needed a common unity, he asked captain Paddy Cunningham to come up with a team motto. He came back with ‘Ni neart go cur le cheile’ (without strength there is no unity), and they wore it on orange armbands as they beat Donegal and Cavan to make it to their first Ulster final in decades.
He countered that with some subtle mind games that went unheralded. Before they met Donegal in the first round, Antrim held a press night. Few journalists attended because few were aware of it. Word was that Bradley was happy to keep it low-key as a means of riling up his players. It worked.
Along the way, he let go of a few players here and there. For too long Antrim were headline fodder for the nonsense that goes on around a panel with players stepping in and out. Once the panel realised he wasn't going to go rapping on doors to bring lads back for the Championship, they had his trust.
Promotion in his first season, an Ulster final appearance, and scaring the life out of Kerry in an All-Ireland qualifier represented the best coaching job in the country.
Following up that with another promotion was also a brilliant achievement.
By year three, the chemistry began to wane a little. Relegation did not help and the panel began to fall into bad habits. The unity of Ni neart go cur le cheile began to unravel.
They were the first team to be exposed to Jim McGuinness's Donegal but over that summer Bradley was able to spot the evolution towards power. Before, he played to the traditional Antrim strengths of speed and agility, now he had to develop his team differently and poached no less than Andy Ward. In a shake-up of the backroom, he brought in the highly-rated Paul McFlynn and local favourite Gearoid Adams.
Antrim in 2012 are in a different place. They can look at their last four Championship campaigns and count the vanquished; Donegal, Cavan, Carlow, Westmeath, London and Galway. Pre-Baker, Antrim had to go as far back as 2003 for their last Championship win.
Individual players such as James Loughrey and Michael McCann have entered the top bracket in Ulster, while Bradley also had to cope with the loss of Niall McKeever to a career in Aussie Rules football.
This was all done on hard work, by a hard man.
The choreography of his exit and the situation in Derry will lead to suspicions that Bradley wants to manage his sons Paddy and Eoin and that this could be his last chance.
In fact, he has been involved with his boys with Glenullin for years, displaying his devotion to the game.
He'll be back soon though, you can count on it.