Thursday 23 November 2017

Freedom never tasted sweeter for the brother at home

Tommy Conlon

Ah, he had to rub their noses in it, did the Brad, couldn't leave it alone, just had to be up to some bit of mischief before the match was out.

In fairness, it gave me a chuckle, and I was already happy enough, what with both teams serving up a very enjoyable 70 minutes of the grand old game.

And there was me dreading it: Armagh against Derry? Sure the Hutus and the Tutsis wouldn't be in it with them. But there was nothing else on the big-ball menu last Sunday (and far too much on it this weekend), so with sour anticipation we prepared ourselves for another Clones festival of grimness.

But lo and behold, out they came and played like liberated men. Or at least Derry did. Because Armagh, for the second time in this campaign, facilitated a free-flowing match. Their dreaded blanket defence has disappeared. At times last Sunday in fact, neither defence had as much as a sheet to cover themselves. But it was Armagh who were left the more exposed. One hopes they won't kneejerk back to the bad old days. We've all come too far. They should take comfort from knowing that the greater good was served.

But it served no one better than Eoin Bradley. The amateur psychologists say he's thriving in the absence of his older brother Paddy from the Derry full-forward line. Paddy B apparently cast a bit of a shadow over the young lad in the same full-forward line.

There has yet to be a definitive book written on the role of The Brother in the GAA. It would surely make an important contribution to the general literature on developmental psychology. For there was no man ever played football or hurling, no matter how brilliant, who didn't have a brother "at home" who was better. But therein lay the problem: the brother was always at home. Even if he was in America, or London town.

Anyway, and regrettably, there was no sign last Sunday of Paddy because of the knee, and Eoin, for whatever reason, was in a mood to cut loose. Mark Lynch likewise, another mercurial operator with loads of jinks and shimmies in his locker. Between them they went to town on the Armagh full-back line. It was a treat to watch. They revelled in that precious substance that had become all but alien to them during their county careers: space. They had so much of it they positively luxuriated in it, and in the process they put on a show.

It should be mentioned that Stevie McDonnell did his bit at the other end. McDonnell has always had a natural ability to generate excitement in a crowd; there is an aura of danger about his work, bristling with pace and lightning-quick turns onto either foot. He's been a hell of a good forward.

The Bradleys and their type tend to exude more elegance than menace. Maybe it's because they are members of the left: and left-footed players do it their own way. It could be a T-shirt slogan.

The best ones usually manage to play the game in their own time; they carry themselves a certain way; they have a style all of their own.

Eoin's point in the 28th minute was a thing of beauty: quick acceleration, sudden slam on the brakes, a jink inside and his marker is gone flying the other way; straightens the run, a quick solo and hop, stabilises his feet for the shot -- and over the bar from 50 yards.

Took his goal like a pro too, had loads of time to make a mess of it, but brought the ball in, one-on-one with the 'keeper and dinked it over him. Dammit this lad is good when he's let play.

Bould as well. Five minutes left, the match is in the bag, and he couldn't resist a bit of baiting. Free out, Armagh's Andy Mallon is hurrying to retrieve the ball, and the Brad whacks it off his shins. Just to annoy him. Just to get a rise out of Mallon. Which he duly does.

Mallon grabs him by the throat, spitting vengeance. And Bradley refuses to engage: hey I'm cool, what's his problem? But inside he's laughing. I've just stuck one in the net. I'm good for 1-5 today. And the Armagh lads are boiling. Sweet.

He was entitled to all the satisfaction he got from his performance. The lad, like his brother, has been crowded out and bottled up for most of his career. Last Sunday he was allowed to breathe.

It was a reminder too of how vulnerable a player of his talent is to the strategies of opposing teams. How vulnerable the game itself is to the strategies of managers and teams. Armagh could have stacked their defence last Sunday. Bradley could have been gang-tackled every time he got his hands on the ball. But Armagh played with an orthodox formation and, just like that, Bradley was free. The match was free.

Today we will probably see in Ulster a match at the other end of the spectrum: Donegal and Tyrone will have squadrons behind the ball. It will in all likelihood be an ugly affair. And the winners will then turn their attentions to Derry in the Ulster final.

At which point, I'm afraid to say, the Brad's carefree days will once more be over.

Sunday Indo Sport

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