Warmed by the prospect of championship fire
Eoin Bradley is free from injury and ready for a crack at Ulster, writes Marie Crowe
When Eoin Bradley was recovering from a cruciate injury in 2011, it was tough, both mentally and physically, but he found solace within his family. His brother Paddy had suffered the same injury and was going through the same hardship, the same recovery and rehab. When he went down to the gym, Paddy was usually there too, going through the grind, doing the hard yards.
"It was hard at the time," says Eoin Bradley. "The first couple of weeks after the injury you think, 'do I want to do this, do I want to do that?' But once you are back off the crutches and stuff like that and back around the club you are mad to get at it. A lot of players come back after six or seven months and they are not fully fit. I heard Mickey Harte say once that a cruciate injury needs 12 months for recovery and I believe that and did that."
Eoin made it back for last year's championship but it didn't go well. They lost to Donegal in Ulster and Longford in the qualifiers.
He's been fully fit for over a year now but Paddy hasn't been as lucky. Last September, the 2012 Derry captain suffered his second cruciate knee ligament injury in just 18 months. However, despite the setback, Paddy has declared his desire to line out for Derry but so far hasn't heard from manager Brian McIver.
And although Eoin would love to play with his brother again, he's decided not to get involved in the situation. "It's awkward enough for me but I need to look after myself. Paddy and Brian will sort it out among themselves; if Brian wants him back, he does, if he doesn't then there is nothing I can do about that. I haven't that long left and I missed a few years so I am looking forward to playing myself.
"But Paddy is only 32 and he will play a lot of club games in the next six or seven weeks. If Derry are still in the championship, I'm sure he will be called upon, if not he'll be back for next year. If you are fit enough you can play until you are 34 or 35, he still has a couple of more years in him yet."
Eoin's father Liam also helped with his recovery; he's a former inter-county manager so he knows how much dedication is required to make it as a player. He's also Eoin's boss, they are plasterers, and when it came to rehab he accommodated his son's needs.
"When I was coming back from injury if I'd been working for anyone else except my dad, I'd have got the sack. If I needed to take time off to go to the physio or doctor, he allowed me. There was never a question. I was very lucky. Plastering is heavy work, it doesn't go well with being an inter-county footballer; with Derry we could be out five maybe six nights a week. It's not easy to keep everything going. I'm going to try and get some coaching badges this summer and try move into that."
Recently, Kildare captain Eamonn Callaghan took three months' unpaid leave from the Gardaí to concentrate fully on his football commitments and recovering from injury. The dedication required for inter-county football is huge and Eoin can see why Callaghan needed to take the time out. Because of injury Eoin has missed three years of senior football. In addition to doing his cruciate, he broke his leg in his first year with Derry. But even though he's been unlucky in the past he doesn't worry
about a recurrence. Knowing that he has done the work gives him the luxury of being able to go hell for leather, in training and in games.
Winning the Division 2 title has given Derry momentum and Eoin is full of anticipation for their chance to have a crack at Ulster. "When we won the league final I really felt like I was back into the swing of things, now it's time for the championship, it's a step up. You can play as many leagues as you want but it's championship football you are judged on. Hopefully come the game I'll play well and people will say that man worked hard to get back."
That goes for the new manager Brian McIver too. He can't be faulted on his league campaign but it's the championship that counts. Eoin is enjoying the freshness he brings as well as the influence of trainer Paddy Tally. And he's looking forward to today.
"It will be very tight; I'm expecting typical Ulster football, 13 men behind the ball. That's the way Down have been playing all year, our game is probably similar to theirs, we will have to try and break them down, keep possession and kick some scores. We are used to it now."
Whoever wins earns a meeting with Donegal in the Ulster semi-final. Until recently Derry found themselves well able to beat the All-Ireland champions but the arrival of Jim McGuinness halted that trend.
"They are very tough to beat now; four or five years ago we were beating Donegal with most of the players who are playing now. McGuinness took the bull by the horns, turned things around and did some job. He's a different class, very professional."
Eoin Bradley is a different class too, he's a survivor.