Belfast Telegraph

You've got to follow your dream: Meet Tyrone teenager Conor Bradley who's set to seal Liverpool transfer

Northern Ireland U16 winger Conor Bradley will sign for boyhood club Liverpool.
Northern Ireland U16 winger Conor Bradley will sign for boyhood club Liverpool.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

On May 7, 2019, Liverpool FC proved that anything is possible with a dream and hard work. Now a 15-year-old from County Tyrone is arriving on Merseyside with both in abundance.

Last month, Conor Bradley was watching on at home, scarcely able to believe what he was taking in as his beloved Reds trounced Barcelona 4-0 at Anfield to progress to the Champions League final and tee up the club's sixth European triumph.

"Whenever we went 2-0 up I still thought it was impossible," he smiles.

It wasn't - and that's the knowledge Bradley takes with him as he prepares to sign for his boyhood club in two weeks' time.

The Killen lad will put pen to paper on a two-year scholarship deal at Liverpool on his 16th birthday on July 9.

Just like the moment Divock Origi's second goal of the night put Liverpool 4-3 ahead on aggregate, it will be a moment of glory, pointing forward to a hopeful future but most of all harking back to years of hard graft.

Bradley, a 'pacy and direct' winger by his own definition, has been training with an eye on that moment since he joined Castlederg club St Pat's aged nine. Fast forward three years and he had been hand selected for the Irish FA's development programme and been pushed forward as a potential future star for the Reds.

"I was training with the Liverpool Academy in Belfast and they brought me over for a trial," he explains. "I didn't do very well at first but then I went to Germany on a tour in April 2016 and I was named Players' Player of the Tour. That was really the start of it all for me."

It may have been the beginning but there was plenty more work to be done between then and now. Six days a week, in fact.

Three of those have been spent in Cookstown working with Club NI, one training with Dungannon Swifts, one religiously following his own training programme and Saturdays playing matches.

"Dungannon have been a big help to me but the Club NI guys have been my biggest influence," he said.

"We're so far out in the west here but having three sessions a week in Cookstown with the top coaches has been massive."

All of that, of course, has required hard work as well from dad Joe and mum Linda, who has been racking up around 500 miles a week on top of a full-time job selling cars.

"I don't sleep a lot but we're there now, I suppose, with him going away. When he moves over, someone else can look after him," she laughs.

"It's a privilege when you get to this stage but there is a lot of...," she pauses. "Unseen work," interjects an evidently grateful son.

"Conor's been working hard for a long time and we've known this might happen but we've been trying to keep focused and to make sure Conor stays grounded."

They seem to have done a good job of that, especially with more than one Premier League club sniffing round.

"I played a game for Northern Ireland in Newry and after that, I had Chelsea and Manchester United looking at me as well," he says.

"I went to United and Southampton on trial but we picked Liverpool. It wasn't just because I support them, it was because they're a real family club and that's something we all really appreciate.

"They're also keen on the education side of it, which is very important to me."

Like Bobby Burns - the NI U21 full-back who made headlines in Scotland by insisting on going to university while forging a first-team career at Hearts - Bradley has a brain to match his quick feet.

He was even fast-tracked through Christian Brothers Grammar School in Omagh, missing out Year 10 to go straight into GCSEs in order to facilitate his move across the Irish Sea.

So how has that gone?

"Well, we'll see in a few weeks," jokes mum Linda, looking ahead to results day.

"Fourth year was very difficult but this year has been a lot better," Conor said. "I feel a bit more mature and able to do it, the work hasn't fazed me as much."

At Liverpool, Bradley will study three BTEC diplomas - double sport and business.

But it's out on the pitch that he will this time be thrown in at the deep end with older lads.

Just a month too old to play for the Under 16 team this season, Bradley will go straight to the Under 18s, aiming to break his way into a side that in April won the FA Youth Cup by beating Manchester City on penalties.

"I can't wait for it," he says. "It will be a great opportunity. I'm not too nervous about it yet because I've been over so many times before and I'm living with the same family I've always stayed with. But then maybe the nerves will hit me a bit when I'm actually there.

"I don't like to think about it all too much yet. It's a bit overwhelming that I'm going to join the club that I support but hopefully I can take it all in my stride."

Bradley will make the big move in a few days, ready to begin stage two of his hard work.

And all with the aim of becoming the first Northern Irishman to play a competitive game for the Reds' senior side since Sammy Smyth in the 1950s.

"One day," he says. "You've got to follow your dream," adds Linda.

He's got the graft, he's got the vision.

And as the Reds proved against Barcelona, the impossible just might be possible.

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