Bradley eyes top flight for Antrim
Liam Bradley pleads for some understanding that his objectives are not to be mistaken for arrogance and that his opinion of Antrim's status should not be confused with anything other than what he believes to be the truth.
For a start, he expects to win promotion from Division 3 at Casement Park tomorrow night when Louth -- the closest of the four teams perched behind them in the group on six points -- come to town.
In fact, he bemoans that they didn't close the deal against Offaly in Tullamore last Sunday when they had the opportunity.
But once that objective of promotion is achieved, he can set his sights on the summer again and consolidating the status of "one of the top 10 teams in the country."
After that Bradley can then turn his attentions towards Division 1, where he feels his emerging team are well capable of playing their football in future years.
'Baker' doesn't make small talk. He doesn't talk his team down, either, because their unyielding belief is shared and over the last 12 months, their progress has been underscored by faith in what they do.
For so long we have traded them off as the weakest of the nine in Ulster; statistics have consistently backed that up in league and championship. But right now, Bradley sees a squad in front of him that's the match of anything else in Ulster. His words, not ours.
"We think we now have the best panel that Antrim have had for many, many years and we think that panel has the ability to compete with anyone else in Ulster," he said with solemn conviction yesterday.
So far, league results have borne much of that conviction out. But just in the last week Antrim football has shown some vulnerability with defeat in Tullamore last Sunday followed by an U-21 quarter-final reversal at the hands of Monaghan at home on Wednesday night.
Victory in Tullamore last Sunday would almost certainly have guaranteed them Division 2 status for next season, given their sizeable superiority in score difference.
"We were disappointed with that performance, but it won't knock us out of our stride for long. To be honest, if we can't get two points from our two remaining games against Louth and Wexford, then we don't deserve to be going up," he said.
"I'd have great ambition for these Antrim players. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to sound over confident but I think at some stage in the future they are capable of mixing it in Division 1. That's where they want to be," added Bradley, father of Derry players Paddy and Eoin.
"We have a lot of players who have played very competitively at the highest level of third level with Queens, St Mary's and Jordanstown. They know the level they are capable of."
And Bradley welcomed back the remaining seven St Gall's players to training last night -- Colin Brady, Kevin Niblock, Sean Burke, Andy McClean, Terry O'Neill, Aodhan Gallagher and Sean Kelly -- eight days after their impressive Croke Park triumph over Kilmurry-Ibrickane which earned the county a first football All-Ireland title at adult level.
Earlier in the week CJ McGourty, who had fallen out of favour with Bradley's management over a discipline issue 12 months earlier, made his return. And his presence -- along with the St Gall's contingent -- should provide the impetus for Antrim to secure successive promotions, something Tipperary managed in 2008 and '09.
"People will inevitably look to last year, getting to an Ulster final and then running Kerry so close as a once off. But we see it as a stepping stone. We felt we left that Kerry game behind," Bradley said.
The advent of St Gall's as All-Ireland champions, coupled with the progress in league and championship over the last 12 months, has breathed new life into Antrim football.
"In my first game in charge against Wicklow there were no more than a hundred people in the ground -- and now the stand is full 15 minutes beforehand," Bradley said.
"Of course what Gall's did has been inspirational. And no disrespect to Kilmurry-Ibrickane, but they won that final in second gear. But we always felt we could go up even without the artillery of the St Gall's boys until the last two rounds.
He added: "It's encouraging for everyone involved, but it's not our passport to success. We know we have to work that bit harder than more successful teams. And if we don't get two points at least from our next two matches, we will have egg on our faces after the position we have put ourselves in."