Glen’s upward curve

By Michael McMullan

EMMETT Bradley encapsulates the Glen story that still dreams of the magical chapter last year’s campaign failed to fully write.

Alongside Michael Warnock, also present at Monday night’s press night, he is young enough to have played his part as they began their dominance of minor football but old enough to reflect on the tougher days of bedding in at senior level.

Glen’s golden generation took its time to arrive. It was Ballinderry, Coleraine and Sleacht Néill who were taking home the bigger prizes.

When relegated to intermediate, Glen failed to win the championship. There was the loss to Magherafelt in their first senior final. All humps in the road.

Now, the landscape has changed. Seated in a quiet room at the back of the clubhouse, Bradley looks ahead to a second All-Ireland final. He speaks with the same calmness the Wattys exude on the pitch.

He uses the word unbelievable to sum up the feeling in a camp coming to terms with the here and now.

They are grounded despite the lofty heights their profile has been elevated to.

To many, the obvious excitement would be winning games and being paraded up Maghera street on the back of a lorry. For Bradley, he adds another element.

“It is really exciting and we are very proud to have our club in among clubs that have great tradition,” he said, also referring to growing up watching Nemo Rangers and Crossmaglen on the telly of a Sunday. Their opponents in Sunday’s final tick the same box.

Glen have arrived at the party with their Derry and two Ulster titles in three years as proof they’ve walked the walk.

“Our group are quite humble and are constantly doing the work to make sure they are at that standard,” Bradley added.

When did Glen feel they belong alongside the big boys of club football? Back-to-back All-Ireland finals might suggest it.

“The team won’t be content until they take that next step,” added Bradley, referring to their target of welcoming the Andy Merrigan Cup back to Derry.

Only Bellaghy, Lavey and Ballinderry before them have gone the distance.

For Glen, winning their first Derry title in 2021 was the breakthrough that changed their status within the Oakleaf County.

While it may seem a while ago, it’s not. The newest additions to the senior squad know nothing only glory, players such as Ethan Doherty, Eunan Mulholland, Alex Doherty and Conleth McGuckian.

“We laugh and joke sometimes that since they have joined Glen seniors they have been playing in county finals and they don’t know what it has been like,” Bradley outlined.

The young guns brought the extra pep but the older players remember the tougher days when there was a scratching of heads, looking for the directions to the winners’ circle.

Grinding out wins has helped. They’ve never been able to look further than the next bend on the road. A one point win. Sometimes two, but most of the time, games have gone the distance.

“We learn to appreciate that any time you come out of Derry, you are playing against a county champion and that’s the unique thing about club, compared to inter-county,” said Bradley.

“You are playing against winners at that stage, you are always playing against teams who have momentum behind them.”

That’s the attraction at club level. Two teams, going at it and fully believing the winning line is in their grasp.

And, not that, Glen are dining at the top table, that’s where the extra layer of satisfaction comes from.

But, the forks in the road have tested them. There would’ve been the narrative in some corners of Derry that Glen’s underage production line would fail to pay out the jackpot prizes.

Inside the circle, the mindset was different. Bradley always believed. The group had a “deep belief” their four minor winning years, followed by the u-21 dominance, would eventually deliver.

“What shape or form that (success) came in or how quickly it came, you couldn’t be absolutely certain…you can’t be certain about anything in sport,” he stated.

“One thing we were certain about was that we were going to achieve success in some shape or form.”

In came Malachy O’Rourke. Check. Ryan Porter joined him as trainer. Check. A balance in terms of age. Check. Buy-in. Check. The pieces of the puzzle were ready to slot into place.

“Things just really clicked in that (2021) season and things went really, really well for us and the performance levels were right,” said Bradley.

“We really, really want to keep it at that level and at a level where you are competing year in and year out,” he continued.

“That has taken us to where we are at currently. We have an opportunity to contest an All-Ireland final and we are treating it like another championship game.

“We are now playing against the winners of Roscommon and Connacht, it is up to us to try to get our performance levels right and see if it is enough to beat them.”

Will it be enough for Andy Merrigan to winter in Maghera? Sunday will answer the question.

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