Slaughtneil title defence suffers a massive setback with Gerald Bradley injury
One of the province's top footballers has been ruled out for a year because of injury just when his team is about to launch its bid for back-to-back Ulster Club Championship titles.
Gerald Bradley had been eagerly looking forward to playing a part in keeping Slaughtneil on the provincial throne but is now coming to terms with the fact that his playing career has been put on hold.
The lithe 21-year-old forward scored one of the most controversial goals of 2014 in the Derry Championship final against Ballinderry which gave his team their passport into the Ulster Club series for the first time and he had been hoping to help the side retain their title.
Slaughtneil will meet newly-crowned Fermanagh champions Derrygonnelly in the preliminary round on Sunday.
"I would just love to be playing but I'm now out for a year. I have a bad cruciate ligament injury as well as collateral damage so I've a long hard road ahead of me," admits Bradley.
"But look, Slaughtneil are on a high at the minute. We have won the Derry senior hurling, football and camogie titles and morale is great overall.
"While we are proud of this, we really want to keep our Ulster Club football title.
"Our hurlers have already reached their Ulster Club final in which they will meet Cushendall, the camogie girls are looking good to make further progress so now it's up to the footballers to help keep the flag flying."
In the All-Ireland Club final this year Slaughtneil fell to Galway and Connacht champions Corofin and ever since then there has been a palpable desire within the side to return to Croke Park.
"Success can build its own momentum and we hope that we can maybe prove this again but it's one match at a time," he says.
"Derrygonnelly showed tremendous character and courage in overcoming Roslea in the Fermanagh final last Sunday just a week after a terrible tragedy befell their club so they will feel they will be well fit for us this weekend," points out Bradley.
While Slaughtneil have undoubtedly scaled a new peak since the start of last year, Bradley confirms that players are taking on board what he sees as "the exceptional achievements" of other clubs in the province.
"You look at a side like Crossmaglen Rangers and see that they have won 19 Armagh titles in 20 years as well as a lot of Ulster and All-Ireland club titles and then you see Kilcoo winning their fourth consecutive Down title and you just know how high the bar has been set," he says.
Assistant team manager John Joe Kearney admits Bradley is a big loss to Slaughtneil.
"The big pity is that boys like Gerald Bradley and Paudie McGuigan will not be able to play for some time because of injury. This is a real setback for both of them but hopefully they will return stronger and better than ever," Kearney says.