We're facing the best of the best, insists Bradley
When Gerald Bradley looked on as Kilkenny powered their way to a raft of All-Ireland hurling titles spanning recent years, he never thought for a moment that he would get the opportunity to share the same pitch with people he regarded as legends.
Yet that is precisely what the Slaughtneil midfield dynamo will do on Sunday, January 5, when he lines out with the Ulster Club champions against Kilkenny and Leinster title-holders in the All-Ireland Club Hurling semi-final.
Twenty-five-year-old Slaughtneil talisman Bradley is still coming to terms with what he regards as the most alluring challenge of his sporting career to date but he is determined that the stardust will not blur his vision as his team bid to make it into the All-Ireland final for the first time.
"When I was younger I used to look on in complete awe as people like Henry Shefflin and TJ Reid weaved their magic with Kilkenny and now I and the rest of the Slaughtneil players are getting this golden opportunity to go in against them.
"This is the biggest challenge Slaughtneil have ever faced but we will be ready for it," vows Bradley.
His personal preparations for the game have been boosted now that he has just won the Quinn Building Products Ulster GAA Writers' Association monthly merit award for November following his five-star display in the Ulster final. Shefflin is the manager of the all-conquering Ballyhale side while Reid is top scorer and Bradley is steeled for the task of arresting their progress.
"When you are going in against Ballyhale you are facing the best of the best. We know that if we were to inch our way to victory it would be great for hurling not just in Slaughtneil, but in Derry and Ulster as a whole," insists Bradley.
Slaughtneil manager Michael McShane has welcomed Bradley's writers' award and sees this as a further bonus for a team that is prepared to put previous disappointments in All-Ireland Club semi-finals behind them.
"We maybe were not at our best against Dunloy in the Ulster final but I feel there is a big performance within my team and hopefully they will produce it against Ballyhale," states McShane.
Not for the first time Slaughtneil will lean on their battery of dual players to spearhead their challenge which means leading roles for Chrissy McKaigue, Brendan Rogers, Cormac O'Doherty and Karl McKaigue among others.
Quinn Building Products Sales and Marketing Director Seamus McMahon did the honours when Bradley received his writers' award at Quinn's Corner Restaurant, Ballygawley.
It took the form of an engraved Belleek Living vase, training gear from O'Neill's International Sportswear and hand crafted engraved cuff-links from Carlingford Design House.