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Ryan Bradley: "We never give up" 25.08.11

by Chris McNulty

He doesn’t like the limelight, hates it in fact, but Ryan Bradley is becoming used to being an easily recognisable figure as he goes about his daily business.
He steps into the foyer of An Grianan Hotel in Burt just past noon on a grey Saturday in August and he's found himself in the middle of a handful of well-wishers.
A family of Buncrana natives are up on native soil from Dublin for the weekend and have stopped to discuss football. It's all on everybody’s lips and is unavoidable really.
You can sense a little unease as he becomes the centre of attention for a time.
In a few months' time, he'll really be the centre of attention in the same venue as he weds fiancee Claire Sheerin, a first cousin of Michael Murphy's, on New Year's Eve.
Bradley keeps himself to himself and doesn't go seeking the media spotlight. If anything he tries to avoid it.
"I hate the limelight. It's hard to get used to it. When you're in the limelight I suppose you have to do a wee bit,” he says, the topic of conversation a tad unavoidable after the dramatics of the All-Ireland quarter-final win against Kildare a couple of weeks earlier.
"You meet everyone and even non-GAA people are talking about it. It's given the town a big lift and it's the same all across Inishowen and the county as a whole. Hopefully we can keep it going now and get another day out.”
 Buncrana GAA star Ryan Bradley.
Ryan Bradley's story is one of the biggest success stories of the year so far. It's as far back as 2005 that he made his Donegal debut, under Brian McEniff in the National League. He was in Boston for two months that summer and missed out on the intercounty scene in 2006, before
being brought back by Brian McIver for the League winning campaign of 2007.
He was in again for a time in 2008 and at the beginning of 2009. He was back in America that summer, played one game with Donegal Boston and crossed the Atlantic again, sleeping on a mattress on a floor in Boston quickly losing its appeal. He'd lost his love for the game and it looked like his time had moved on. Even with Buncrana, the effort was gone, the spark missing.
“Nah, I had no interest,” he admits.
“I wasn't fit, I didn't want to get fit and I had just lost interest.
“I played under John Joe in his first year during the League, but then I got injured and left the panel. “I had no interest then for a year and a half and didn't train much.
“Donegal was in a bad period, so I didn't miss too much that time.”
He had played underage for the county under men like Enda Nolan, Seanie McEniff and Joe McBrearty. His talent was never in question, but it was going to take something special to bring back the appetite.
The call came in early August. Jim McGuinness made just the one phonecall and Ryan Bradley was on his way to becoming a transformed man.
“I talked to Jim once and after that conversation he had it drummed into my head,” says the 25-year old.
“If I hadn't have come back after that phonecall I'd have been better just to give up football.
Ryan Bradley celebrates with his team-mates in July after Donegal were crowned Ulster champions for 2011.
“It was his plan, his set-up and what he wanted to do for Donegal football. I just wanted to be a part of that.”
Before McGuinness called, Bradley weighed 15 stone 5 on the scales. Notably after the Kildare game, McGuinness mentioned Bradley by name as he talked of the sacrifice and effort put in by the players, telling the assembled media that he was now a trim 13 stone 8.
“There was a serious amount of work, a lot of running on the roads and a lot of gym work. I'd have been training maybe four or five nights a week,” says Bradley now.
“I'd never have been doing gym work before, but I was one-on-one with Adam Speer. We had a group of us together in Letterkenny. I'd be up
the odd morning for assessment at 7 in the morning, the rest I'd do at home in Buncrana.
“I'd never seen that level of commitment or training before. It was close to it under Brian McIver, but there wouldn't have been the same gym work. I think maybe we got away too much. It was a bit lax in terms of checking up on boys, but now Adam keeps a close eye on everything you do.”
Bradley travels to and from training with Tommy McKinley. Some mornings he'll meet with Karl Lacey, Colm McFadden, Rory Kavanagh, Christy Toye, Daniel McLaughlin, Michael Murphy, Kevin Rafferty, Martin McElhinney and Neil Gallagher ('the most competitive person I know!') for a workout.
“I've been in three or four different panels, but I've never seen it as close before – everybody is in this together,” he says.
“There's a real closeness and things have really gelled. Every player respects the other and that really helps when you're backing each other up at training. There are 30 men fighting for 15 places so there is no holding back. Training is really competitive. You wouldn't get away with holding back with Jim.
“Everything is finely detailed. He is so good at explaining things – he simplifies everything. No-one is scared to talk or ask questions.”
Bradley only made his first start in the Ulster Championship this May when he was in the starting XV for the Antrim game. That drab affair was the talk of the nation for a week after it. Bradley scored two points and was named the Sunday Game Man of the Match.
Comments by Pat Spillane, who suggested that Bradley had been the best of a bad bunch and that no-one had deserved the award, drew the ire from McGuinness in the aftermath of Donegal's next championship game against Cavan.
The manager made it clear that Bradley had been disrespected – and he wasn't standing for it.
Bradley shrugs off the comments of the controversial Kerry pundit.
“It was strange hearing what Pat said, but it didn't bother me really,” he says three months on.
“It was great to get the Man of the Match award and Pat had no call to say what he did. But that was his opinion on the game. If he didn't like it, he could have left it at that and talked about the tactics.
“There was no call to say what he did, but it doesn't bother me. I wouldn't even think about it at all. He said the last day that he respected us even though he didn't like how we were playing. I don't really care what he said. As long as we won the game, that's the main thing.
“It's been about getting a gameplan to suit us as a bunch of players. It's been working so far, so I see no reason we should change it. Donegal have played 'nice' football for years, but it hasn't won medals. It hasn't bothered us at all.
“Whatever Jim and Rory tell us to do we'll just do it and we're not bothered by outsiders.”
Traditionally viewed as an attacker, Bradley's role has become more withdrawn since his return to the fold, and he can often been seen foraging in his own full-back line.
“It was hard to get used to,” he admits.
“Tackling wouldn't have been a big part of my game. I'm enjoying it though and that's probably because I'm fit enough for it. If I can get up the field it's always nice to tag on a few scores.
“I'm definitely happy the way it's going. I can still improve on my tackling. I'm lucky to have got the chance to do it so I have to take that chance.”
Last month, he etched a little piece of history, becoming the fist Buncrana clubman to represent Donegal in an Ulster final win.
“The buzz after that game was unbelievable with the crowd all on the field,' he says of the win over Derry in Clones.
“It was pure relief too. It was amazing standing there and seeing the fans flood out onto the pitch. I never thought it would have been like that. Even that night, in Donegal Town there was something special.”
Nothing could have prepared him for the high-intense finale against Kildare a couple of weeks later, though. That was the evening that Donegal's never-say-die mentality was laid bare on Croke Park. Bradley never doubted the outcome, though, even as the clock ticked ominously towards the end with Kildare in the lead.
“Never once,” he says. “I said to Marty Boyle, sitting beside me on the bench, that there was another score in us. I don't think any players believed we were beaten. Kevin's shot hung in the air for a lifetime, but once I seen the 'keeper moving away I knew it was over. The place just erupted.
“It'll help us now. It gave us that belief that we can win in Croke Park. But that belief has been in us all year.
“It comes from the management. They make us believe that we are good enough and tell us never to give up. That attitude comes from training too. When it gets tough at training we keep going; you just find something in the legs to keep it going. We never give up, never stop.
“The belief was there all through the League. We learned a lot during the League. Everyone got trust for each other. We never eat the head off each other, we try and work things out and do the things we've been taught to do.”
Born-again Bradley is now just 70 minutes away from an All-Ireland final. But in the way is one of the most formidable units in the country.
That it's Dublin who will march alongside them on Sunday makes the final seem further in the distance. But quietly, you get the feeling that deep down Ryan Bradley believes that there might be another kick from Tir Chonaill.
He says: "The Dubs will be very tough. Tyrone are a great team, but looking at Dublin, they're fast, physical, quick and strong. They're very intelligent and they kick the ball well.
"Their inside forwards are excellent and the defence is very well set-up. The two Brogans are outstanding footballers though.
“We respect them. We respect every team we play, we have to do that because they're a great team and are going well. We're not happy with second best. After we won Ulster, everyone said that we'd be happy enough with that - but that's not the way it is.” (Inishowen Independent)
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