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Red Hands shake-up will bring success, says Bradley

 

By Declan Bogue

The Irish rugby media used to refer to it as the 'Carton House Bubble' - the effect that would come over the Irish rugby team once they pulled the shutters down and got into the bunker inside the Maynooth hotel.

It is a venue that the footballers of Tyrone have become intimately familiar with over the last number of years.

As soon as they staged their final league games of April, by pulling forward a round to the Friday night, they were off first thing on Saturday morning to immerse themselves in Championship preparations, starting tomorrow with what many are justly seeing as the Ulster final in all but name when Monaghan make the short trip to Healy Park for the Ulster quarter-final.

Mark Bradley had played for Killyclogher against league leaders Trillick that Friday night but insisted that game did not impact on Red Hands preparations.

"There are loads of things you can work on, and it doesn't need to be at 100 mile an hour," the clever attacker said.

"It's tactically more than anything. You are two weeks out from the Championship, so you are not going to be doing anything taxing. There is not going to be any 5k runs or anything like that."

While professional athletes often complain about feeling 'hotel-ed out', the novelty aspect means Gaelic footballers are unlikely to express such reservations.

"I have to say I really enjoy it," bubbles Bradley.

"It was like being a professional footballer. Basically you are waking up, doing your recovery, maybe a gym session to do - optional - and you are out on the pitch all the time. I have to say it's unbelievable.

"The good weather helped too, it is thoroughly enjoyable."

With statistics and measurements forming a part of every player's de-brief after games now, even down to the lower levels of club football and hurling, student teacher Bradley admits he has a huge appetite for absorbing the lessons that raw data can give him about his own performance.

"I think you sort of have to do it now, whereas when you were younger you maybe didn't care as much. Video sessions, you sat through them and maybe didn't pay attention," he explains.

"This is my fourth year now, so boys are catching up, younger boys are coming through and you have to keep analysing your game. There are absolutely loads of things that I can improve upon, so without a doubt I am going to do it."

Last year, Bradley played an extremely defined role as the one attacker Tyrone left up the field at all times. When their massed defence overturned possession, they would spring out in twos and threes. Up the other end of the field, Bradley might have had to make six runs in order to create enough space to make himself available to receive the pass.

It looked like an exhausting role, but this year there are signs that system is to be abandoned. For this weekend, Mickey Harte has picked Lee Brennan and Bradley together in a full-forward line.

With two left footers who do similar things, the fear might have been that it was one or the other. While Harte's selection here has been brave, it will no doubt have been informed by the lack of attacking thrust his team displayed in the league defeat against Monaghan in Castleblayney.

"Having Lee there has been absolutely super," says Bradley.

"He is so naturally gifted. No matter what kind of ball he is given, some of the stuff he can do with the ball is amazing. He is a breath of fresh air really and a man that will take on whoever he is on, and go for the jugular, which has been a criticism of Tyrone in the past.

"I know last year we were criticised for not going for goals, but he has really added something different."

It is that elusive quality - something different - that many outside the camp have been suggesting Tyrone need after last year's 12-point humiliation to Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Bradley maintains: "From the outset, we were confident we could beat Dublin but, on the day, everything went wrong. An early goal didn't help things. They set the standards and it was just very hard to catch them on that day."

He states that Tyrone went through it in their end of the year meeting among the players, but they haven't continued to beat themselves up over it either.

"I suppose you take your lessons from it and try and improve this year through training. But it wasn't something we looked at solely this year," he says.

"Improving our forward play is always something we are at. Having Stevie O'Neill coming in there has been excellent, just another forward on the management team. The knowledge he has as well is great."

So, to tomorrow. Monaghan bring their traditional qualities. A few scamps in the line-out and hard men who might be tempted to make their size advantage pay off.

"Whatever game you play nowadays, it is physical," notes Bradley who, at 5'7" and just over 11 stone, has had to rely on his exceptional balance and trickery to avoid opponents intent on damage.

He'll be doing the same in Omagh. Nothing new there.

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