Derry county board officials and manager Damian Cassidy remain hopeful that long-serving forward Paddy Bradley can be persuaded to change his mind after intimating that he will call time on his Oak Leaf career when the team exits the All Ireland Championship this year.
Bradley, who has spent 11 seasons in the Derry side having made his debut against Cavan in the Ulster Championship in 2000, has consistently been the team’s highest scorer in both the National League and Championship.
Now 29, he had indicated earlier in the year that he would reflect on his future this term and it is thought that Derry’s defeat by Armagh in the Ulster Championship preliminary round tie last month has reinforced his decision to step down from the inter-county arena.
Bradley, a teacher at St Paul’s HS, Kilrea remains optimistic that Derry can still make an impact in the All Ireland Qualifiers despite their provincial setback.
“Obviously we are disappointed to have been put out of the Ulster Championship, but now we have to take what is put in front of us in the Qualifiers,” he said.
“I still think that on our day we can be a match for any side. I have been in the team for 11 years now and I would like to go out with a bang if that is possible. I still hope that we can enjoy some big days out this summer.
“I have been around for a while and life has changed. I have been taking stock of things, but I am focused on the Qualifiers for now. I only want to see Derry do well.”
Injuries have disrupted his involvement in the Derry side over the past two years in particular yet his commitment to the side has never been less than absolute — an attribute that was vividly illustrated in an All Ireland tie at Croke Park some years ago against Westmeath when, after receiving a painkilling injection in his ankle, he scored one of the best goals seen at the venue for some time.
With an increasing emphasis on defensive tactics in the modern game, forwards, even those of Bradley’s stature, have found it more difficult to rack up high scores on a consistent basis.
“Teams are getting players back behind the ball now and you just wonder in what direction the game is going,” observed Bradley.
He collected National League medals in 200 and 2008, landed a Derry championship medal with Glenullin two years ago, shared in several inter-provincial triumphs with Ulster and represented Ireland in the International Rules series against Australia.
Latterly, he has been forming a two-man full-forward unit in the Derry side with his brother Eoin.
The duo are expected to underpin Derry’s attack in the Qualifiers and they could well find themselves in opposition to Antrim, the team managed by their father Liam.
Derry PRO Sean Gunning said: “Paddy Bradley has been part and parcel of the Derry side for so long now that the team would look odd without him. I understand that he has yet to make a definite decision on his future but no doubt all will be revealed when our championship campaign ends. We would naturally like to think that this will extend until the third Sunday in September.”