Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Eoin Bradley smashes pain barrier to net winning feeling

Derry's Eoin Bradley and Down's Kevin McKernan

Eoin Bradley stands outside the Derry dressing room with a Down jersey pulled tight around his frame. Underneath it is a damaged shoulder from the clavicle break he sustained a few weeks ago.

He played with it strapped up against Sligo the previous Saturday night. After the game he had removed his jersey, revealing the heavy strapping around it. In this game, that was a red light moment.

Midway through the first half of the win over Down, the giant Mourne midfielder Kalum King put in a hit on Bradley's shoulder.

After contact from one of the biggest hitters in the game, Bradley writhed in agony on the turf, but recovered to see the game out, hitting a fine point in the second half when James Kielt appeared to be isolated in the corner before crossing the ball that Bradley slotted over.

The obvious questions first. How is the shoulder, Eoin?

"Aye, in the first half there ... " he begins, before a bystander comes over and gives him a congratulatory slap on his shoulder and the eyes of half-a-dozen journalists almost pop out.

"Nah," he laughs; "it was the other one! The first half I got a bit of a rattle on it," he acknowledges, "but I was playing with a few painkillers and I think it's going to come alright."

A footballers' confidence can be brittle, but Bradley pointed to how he felt Derry were better equipped for their second instalment of the Down tussles, saying: "I was more confident today than I was the last day. We had Dermy (McBride), PJ (McCloskey) and Sean Leo (McGoldrick) back in our defence there. In midfield, PJ has been a big miss for us all year and you seen there today the amount of ball he caught.

"He won the first eight possessions and that was crucial to us. It's not easy for us to get motivated for this because Down beat us the last day by five points. We were confident that if we worked hard... we would come out with the right result."

The neutrals might prefer the type of game that produced 35 scores between these two the last time they met. However, this encounter was much more in keeping with traditional Ulster values of attritional struggle.

"At the end of the day, you could play in a classic and get beat," says Bradley. "We knew ourselves, we were playing a new system of working back and tracking back. It wasn't pretty at times."

Key to this blue-collar approach are the hits and tackling, beginning with the forwards.

"Brian (McIver) and Paddy (Tally) has been working on that. If the forwards put the pressure on, it would make it easier for the defence," explains Bradley.

"Today, to be fair to me and Lee (Kennedy), Sucky (Bell) and Enda Lynn, James (Kielt) and that, we put in tackles. Fair play to the rest of the team we knuckled down and got the result."

Six points from the teenage Ryan Bell was the major factor in this match.

"I think he was man of the match...brilliant. Last day at midfield, it was a big ask to ask a nineteen-year-old to play midfield in his first Championship game."

With only 15 minutes played against Sligo, and admitting to 'feeling it' in the second half here, Bradley will have a fortnight to get himself right for round three.

And the shoulder?

"It will heal, like!"

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