Ulster SFC semi-final: Tyrone v Donegal, 2pm ... Standing at 5’ 6”, Mark Bradley doesn’t expect to win the battle of the skies, but he does believe he can stretch the Donegal defence with his pace and speed of thought in tomorrow’s high-stakes Ulster SFC semi-final.
A clever playmaker and accurate finisher, the Tyrone attacker will seek to combine both roles, along with his share of covering back in what is widely expected to be a dour, defensive contest played out on the Clones chess board.
Bradley accepts that he’ll have to hold his own in a hostile, physical environment, but he has no fear that his size will inhibit his effectiveness.
“I’m sure if you asked Sean Cavanagh, he gets the same sort of treatment as well. In every changing room you are told to get stuck in and keep the physicality up. It doesn’t matter what height or size you are,” he said.
“If you are marking a man who is six foot, he is nearly as quick now because of the conditioning work teams put in. It’s crazy.
“You’d think the smaller you are the easier it would be to get away, but it’s getting harder and harder.”
Modern football has become a no-go area for many talented players of Bradley’s physical stature, and only the strongest and best have been able to survive. Defensive strategies have dominated in recent seasons, provoking scorn and ridicule from those who hark back to the days of all out attack. But the Killyclogher man reckons that Gaelic football was no glorious spectacle 20-odd years ago either.
“I think Gaelic is going that way anyway regardless of who you play. Whether it’s with Tyrone or Killyclogher, most teams are going defensive anyway so it’s something you have to do.
“It’s not 1990 anymore where you had free-flowing football with loads of room in the forward line. Donegal will be the same in that they will be well set up and drilled to defend and be really hard to break down. That is the way most teams are now.
“Back in that day too I’m sure the matches weren’t always great. It’s not as if every game was amazing, full of free-flowing football.
“It is highlighted more nowadays about how defensive it has got, but it was the same then as well.
“I don’t think people are worried about building profiles for themselves, they just want to get the win. You are there to help your county in whatever way you can.”
Bradley will look to link up with Killyclogher club-mates Tiernan and Conall McCann, with whom he has developed an intuitive understanding through years of friendship and sporting affiliation.
“That just comes from playing together so often at club level. If I see Conall on the ball, he knows where I am going to run and vice-versa if I have possession. We have built up a good chemistry from years playing together.”
The younger McCann brother, Conall, burst upon the scene with a magnificent midfield display in his first championship start as the Red Hand routed Derry in the opening round. And Bradley reckons he has a big future in the game, and a significant role to play tomorrow.
“Conall is a magnificent footballer. I’ve seen it for years playing with him for Killyclogher. He has a new- found confidence from Killyclogher’s success and St Mary’s (Sigerson Cup win) as well. He has always had talent in abundance so it’s great to see him taking his chance now.”
Criticism levelled at Tyrone’s attacking potential is unwarranted, according to Bradley, who contends that the Ulster champions are capable of winning a shoot-out.
Tomorrow’s game is unlikely to deliver a high-scoring spectacle, but he points to the big tally they racked up in routing the Oak Leafers at Celtic Park.
“Twenty-two points on any day is good shooting. I think it would be more worrying if we weren’t in those positions to be scoring.
“People have their opinions, but we know we are putting in the work and have forwards capable of putting the scores away.”
Donegal emerged as convincing winners when these north-west neighbours met in the league at Ballybofey earlier this year, but corner-forward Bradley dismisses that difficult evening as irrelevant.
“There hasn’t been much talk about that game. We underperformed that night, defensively and offensively. It left us with things to work on going ahead.”
Small in stature, big in heart
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