Redemption time for Connlan Bradley in Ulster final crunch moment

By Michael McMullan

IF ever there was a definition of redemption, the 49th minute of Sunday’s Ulster Club final ticks that box.

Aaron Branagan had cut Glen’s lead to a single point and Kilcoo’s never say die attitude was in full flow when Ryan Johnston’s inch-perfect dinked pass found Ceilum Doherty in space behind Ethan Doherty.

When the Kilcoo man got turned inside, his shot was blocked by Connlan Bradley. Jerome Johnston hovered up the rebound, but was smothered by green and gold jersies before Tiarnán Flanagan came out with the leather in hand.

The irony. It was Bradley’s shanked kick-out that led to Jerome Johnston’s winning goal and, this year, the save was one of game changers in a pulsating afternoon.

“Ones say I am not there to make a save, but I have put a lot of work into it,” Connlan said, pointing to the fact that he was converted into a goalkeeper for his kick-outs.

“I had a lot of work up with the Derry team with (Thomas – Derry goalkeeper coach) Postie Mallon. He has brought me on leaps and bounds.”

Minutes after Connor Carville raised the Seamus McFerran Cup, Bradley is still stopping for photos with Glen fans.

“It is very, very hard to describe,” he said of becoming an Ulster champion. “The feeling, compared to last year, was completely different. I was completely lost last year after I messed up that short kick-out, I feel like I was to blame, but everybody reassured me that it wasn’t my fault.

“All the wee mistakes, you can get away with them outfield. I have come to notice that, in nets, if you make these mistakes, then these things can happen. We got over the line and it’s the best feeling ever.”

It could’ve all panned out all so differently had Kilcoo nailed their penalty in first-half stoppage time.

With the allotted five minutes already played, referee Joe McQuillan allowed Bradley’s kick-out to sail into the vicinity of Conor Glass. It was a re-run of the ‘flick over the top’ move that launched Glen attacks in the Derry championship when they mixed up their kick-outs.

TARGET…Conor Glass (pictured) and Emmett Bradley are an excellent option for Glen’s long kick-out

Glass didn’t take possession and seconds later Shealan Johnston set up Jerome Johnston for a goal chance before he was impeded by Ryan Dougan and referee McQuillan, after consulting with his umpire, after consulting with his umpire, deemed the foul was inside the penalty area

“I had no need to rush it, but I did. When you are doing nets, the wee things can count for you – good or bad,” said Bradley, who felt he had Devlin’s kick covered.

“I had been monitoring their penalty takers. The post saved me at the time but it didn’t go in,” he revealed the moment he dived the right way before Devlin’s shot hit the butt of the upright.

It was the closest Glen came to falling behind, but with the sun shining into the eyes of the Bradley and his defence, it was a tricky half hour that saw the Glen ‘keeper play  a sweeper for much of the second half.

“They pushed up man for man and they did leave me, so that’s why I got on so much ball in the second half,” he pointed out.

“I gave away one at the very start and the boys reassured me to keep calm, when to go or when not to and just hold it.”

“I felt we controlled it fairly well. Kilcoo put massive pressure on you, but I think we did come on top in most of the things we did and the pressure we put on them.”

Bradley, a former outfield player, now in his third season as a goalkeeper has two Derry senior medals and played a key role in the club’s first ever Ulster success at senior level.

He is full of praise for his teammates for their “reassurance” and he points to brother Emmett and Conor Glass as “two massive targets” when any short kick-out option or kick to a wing back is absent.

“I feel that we are definitely the hardest working team in the country when we want to be,” he said commending his kick-out options.

“Sometimes we are slow starters and everybody says we are a second half team, but I felt in the first half today we really did go for it.”

It was Glen’s study of Kilcoo and especially their win over Ballybay that again laid the foundation for a kick-out press that makes teams life hell.

“I thought we really worked hard on them and turned over a good few (four from Kilcoo’s nine),” Bradley said of how they worked to close down his opposite number Niall Kane in the first half.

“That was our aim, we saw against Ballybay that they struggled on the longs (kick-outs) and they were getting away so many short and that was how they were building their attacks.

“So we put a massive focus on pushing right up on their short kick-out, they got a few away, but he (Kane) is a good ‘keeper so he is going to get that.”

Bradley, at 31, is the oldest player on the team and made his championship debut against Lavey in the 2008 Derry championship in a “struggling” senior team, thrown in the deep end in his first year of minor.

“We had a few tough years, the first five or six of mine at senior level, and we were wondering if these boys (Ulster minor winners) were ever going to come through,” Bradley said.

“It was one relegation battle after relegation battle, so it was hard to get the motivation to play senior football.

“The boys came through in dribs and drabs at the start. Then they were nearly all through at that stage. Thankfully not many fell away so it’s brilliant to be a part of it.”

Between now and January’s clash with Moycullen, there is small matter of his brother Emmett’s stag do needing cancelled.

“I would rather be in an All-Ireland semi-final than a stag do, I am not overly bothered about it,” he said. “I am buzzing about the chance or getting to Croke Park and playing instead of sitting on the bench.”

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