Belfast Telegraph

Footballers' Lives with Eoin Bradley: I will never know how good a footballer I could have been

The Coleraine star opens up about GAA, soccer and much more in the latest of our popular series

Coleraine striker Eoin Bradley  opens up on whether he should have taken a different path in sport, cruel injury blows, an emotional Irish Cup win... and his Spanish fan club.

Q: Where did your nickname 'Skinner' come from?

A: A lot of people have asked me that and I was never too sure. In my early days playing Gaelic football I raced past people and someone started calling me Skinner and it has certainly stuck.

Q: When did your passion for Gaelic football emerge?

A: I've really grown up with it, it's always been part of my life. My dad (Liam) played it and it's been in the family. Since my days at St Pat's in Maghera it was always about Gaelic football for me, not soccer. It's been a large part of my life and I've been fortunate to play at club level with my team Glenullin and for Derry minors and seniors.

I've played in big games, finals and I've great memories. The football didn't start until I turned 28 - I'm now 33. I played a bit for Kilrea United through the winter and then went to Ballymoney United.

I can remember going to training with Ballymena United under Kenny Shiels as a 17-year-old but I wasn't really interested, it was all about the Gaelic for me.

Q: Have you found it difficult to balance the Gaelic and football commitments over the years?

A: Well, I have stopped playing Gaelic at county level so it's not an issue for me anymore. My dad is manager of Glenullin and my last club manager was my cousin Michael O'Kane.

You've just got to keep an eye on the training and I've spoken to Oran (Kearney, Coleraine manager) about that. The older you get, the more you've got to take care of yourself. Yes, the managers usually picked me to play, but, hey, if you're the main man, you'll play.

Q: You've been told by many people, including your former manager at Glenavon, Gary Hamilton, that you could have played football at a higher level if you had devoted more time to it in your younger years. Looking back now, would you have taken a different sporting path?

A: There's nothing I can do about it now, I can't change the past. But yes, people have those views, and there's a part of me which says, 'What if?'

Maybe I could have enjoyed more success as a footballer, but at that time in my life I enjoyed playing Gaelic football and was fortunate to win a Derry Championship and National League title. Had I committed myself to football I would not have had those Gaelic memories.

I can't complain about all the good times I've enjoyed but there is a big regret I will never know how good a footballer I could have been.

Bradley in action for Derry.

Q: What have been the highlights of your sporting career?

A: I've been very lucky to win a Championship with Glenullin in 2007 and two National League titles with Derry as well as Ulster All Stars. I've played in Irish Cup finals for Glenavon and Coleraine and in both sports I've enjoyed many good times.

I'm enjoying my football at Coleraine and I've also had a good run in terms of European football. When I was at Glenavon I took some flak for not playing Gaelic football but I had great times with Glenavon. James McCartan played for Glenavon and won an All-Ireland title with Down but I've been very lucky to enjoy success in both.

Q: Glenavon's 2-0 Irish Cup final victory over Linfield in 2016 must have been very emotional as it was dedicated to Mark Farren, who lost his courageous battle with cancer. What are your memories of that special day?

A: Yes, it was a special moment and wonderful tribute to Mark. Most of my family were there at Windsor Park and a bus load came up from Glenullin. It was a proud day for me and my family as well as the whole club.

I didn't really know Mark (Farren) but it was an emotional occasion.

To be part of that chapter in the club's history fills me with a lot of pride.

Roaring success: Eoin Bradley won the Irish Cup alongside Kevin Branif

Q: You've been very unlucky with injuries, haven't you?

A: In my second game for Derry in 2004 I suffered a broken leg against Antrim.

In 2011, I missed the Ulster final when I suffered a cruciate ligament injury in my left knee just a week before. That was horrendous because my brother Patrick had also suffered a cruciate injury and it was a huge personal blow for me as I was flying, scoring goals and very confident. We had a great team under John Brennan and I think Donegal only beat us by three points so it was close.

It was a great team, and you do wonder what we could have achieved, but these setbacks sometimes happen.

Then last season I collided with the goalposts at Coleraine, suffering broken ribs and a punctured lung. The consultant told me my season was over with only 12 weeks left but I watched the Irish Cup draw, we were pitted against Ballymena United, and I said to Oran (Kearney) I would be back for that game and I was. The week before I played against Cliftonville then scored two against United. It was a big game for the club and fans, a big moment for me too.

Jordan Allan shows his concern as Eoin Bradley receives treatment

Q: What has been the best and worst day of your life?

A: That broken leg in 2004 while playing for Derry was a nightmare, and the second injury before the Ulster final was also horrendous. Apart from my children being born, the two best days would be winning the Championship with Glenullin and the Irish Cup with Glenavon.

Eoin celebrates success with his dad and Glenullin manager Liam as well as brother Paddy

Q: Is it true you have a Spanish fan club?

A: About a year and a half ago, four or five people came from Spain to watch me play for Glenavon and they sent a letter to me and the club as well. They had watched me play on the internet and wanted to see me in action. They had a great time at the club and turned it into a wee tour of Ireland, I think they spent time in Mayo and Dublin as well. I scored for them and they certainly enjoyed the experience and hospitality in the club that night.

Q Didn't you get stranded in Egypt and miss a Glenavon fixture?

A: I was in Egypt in November 2015 when the Russian passenger plane was brought down by a bomb. It had taken off from Sharm el-Sheikh Airport and I was in the country with my family and was unable to leave the airport. I missed two matches for Glenavon but when I did eventually make it back I scored the winner against Dungannon.

Q: Who were your sporting heroes?

A: In football I always admired the Brazilian Ronaldo. I just thought he was capable of doing anything. In Gaelic it would be Derry's Sean Marty Lockhart. When I was growing up I looked up to him and my older brother Patrick. I admired a lot of the Derry boys, they were special footballers.

Sitting pretty: Eoin Bradley at his home in Kilrea

Q: Do you play other sports?

A: I'm up for anything. If I watch snooker on the television I'll end up playing it within a few days. I like a game of golf too when I can.

Q: What advice would you give to a young footballer or Gaelic star?

A: Follow your dreams and be confident. People say I'm confident and that's me summed up. If someone says I can't do something, you watch and I'll do it. It's one of my big pluses. I have that self-belief which you need to be successful. People said I could never play football, a switch flicks in me and I just do it.

Q: Tell us about your partner Emma and children Cathaoir (11) and Cara (6).

A: Cathaoir is now with the Coleraine Academy while Cara is playing camogie. Sporting genius clearly runs in the family.

Emma used to play camogie but she wouldn't be as passionate about sport as myself. She's a nurse, a Kilrea girl and she makes the Coleraine games when she can.

As Cathaoir plays in the morning we can cheer on Coleraine before we play. I'm a plasterer and I work with my father on building sites while my mum Catherine is a cook at St Paul's College and she's a great one for keeping souvenirs of my career, newspaper articles and old shirts and medals.

Dream team: Eoin Bradley at home with his partner Emma and children Cathaoir and Cara. Photos: Peter Morrison

Q: Who has been your toughest opponent and best player you have played alongside?

A: In Gaelic football it would be Sean Marty Lockhart. Oran was asking who was training Cathaoir and we were proud to say Sean Marty, who holds the record for the highest number of appearances in the International Rules Series.

In football you are talking defenders so Crusaders' Colin Coates springs to mind. He's a tough competitor, their leader, and I don't think they are the same team when he's not there.

The best player I've played with in football would be Paddy McCourt. I used to go and watch him play for Celtic and then ended up in the same team as him at Glenavon. Paddy was different class but maybe the part-time nature of the Irish League didn't suit him. Kevin Braniff and Gary Hamilton were also class players.

Q: Do you have a favourite book, film or musical artist?

A: I don't read much but I like Dwayne Johnson - 'The Rock' - so any of his movies, but I like thrillers and watch a lot of Netflix too. With music I like rappers 50 Cent and Dr Dre.

Q: Why did you leave Glenavon?

A: It's a combination of things, I lost my driving licence through a drink driving offence and was struggling to get lifts. There was always a feeling I would return to Coleraine, closer to home, and my boy is involved with the club's Academy. Glenavon brought in Andrew Mitchell and were rightly looking at their options.

Q: Everton striker Wayne Rooney has received a lot of criticism for his drink driving offence. Can you relate to his experience?

A: If I could turn back time and do things differently I would. I'm not the first person guilty of doing it and I won't be the last. I know I'll never do it again. We are all human and we sometimes make mistakes. It's important we learn from those mistakes. Wayne Rooney is getting a lot of criticism which is understandable but people should also look at themselves and question whether they have ever made a mistake.

Q: How excited are you about this young Coleraine team?

A: Our younger players are as good as anyone in the league. Can we win the title? It would be the equivalent of Leicester City winning the Premier League but one thing we will do is keep our feet on the ground.

I've been lucky to work under managers like Gary (Hamilton) and Oran (Kearney). I'm close to them both and they understand me and my Gaelic background, they respect me for that. I'll do anything for them.

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Centre of attention: Eoin Bradley hails his goal in Coleraine’s win over Crusaders

Q: Do you have coaching ambitions?

A: Yes, I'm doing my badges. It started with the late Wes Gregg at Coleraine, God rest him. Now John Gregg has been appointed the club's Head of Youth Development and he will help me.

Perhaps there's a management role for me in the future but my playing days aren't over yet.

Date of birth: 30th December, 1983

Place of Birth: Ballymoney

Previous Clubs: Kilrea United, Ballymoney United, Glenavon

Coleraine record: 56 appearances, 22 goals

  • Next week: Another Irish League star falls under our spotlight

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