Sunday 26 May 2019

'I might be 31 years of age but I'm enjoying it more than ever'

Bradshaw is revelling in surging Tribe tide after experiencing so many tough summer days with Galway over the years

Galway’s Gareth Bradshaw. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway’s Gareth Bradshaw. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

"Happy camp, good sunshine, championship football. What more would you want?" asks Galway's Gareth Bradshaw as he sat down to fulfil his media duties ahead of tomorrow's Connacht final clash with Roscommon.

It's clear from the off that Bradshaw is enjoying his football. In a career that has seen many narrow defeats and Galway no-shows, he knows you have to roll with the good times when they come. And these feel like good times for Galway.

On the basis of the body of work they have produced over the last few seasons, Kevin Walsh's charges are shedding the 'inconsistent' tag that has dogged them for years. In the last few seasons they have won championship silverware and turned themselves into a Division 1 side. But for years before that the statistics show they were football's nearly men.

Before last year's Division 2 league final they hadn't won a game at Croke Park since the 2001 All-Ireland final, while they also had developed an unhappy knack of pulling one-point championship defeats out of almost any scenario.

Unfortunately for Bradshaw (31), those lean years coincided with a large part of his career.

"Yeah, they were testing times, no two ways about it," he recalls.

"We were losing qualifier games to Antrim and Wexford by a point. We were changing managers and whatnot but I think, definitely, in the last four years we're exactly where we want to be."

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At one stage, it all got on top of him. In the absence of the injured Finian Hanley, Bradshaw (right) captained Galway against Mayo in their 2013 Connacht championship clash.

What followed was Galway's heaviest defeat to their greatest rivals since 1907. Bradshaw, along with Niall Coleman, saw the line that day. And having been part of the Galway set-up since late 2006, when he was still a teenager, Bradshaw went Stateside even before the qualifiers rolled around.

Looking back now, Bradshaw insists he has no regrets.

"I suppose you would have (got some stick for leaving) but it was a personal decision," Bradshaw recalls.

"I look at lads now making decisions to go to America and I see . . .whoever does go in the summer I wouldn't begrudge them a trip whatsoever. It's your own life. You've got to have a good balance to it. I don't regret the decision I made.

"If anything, I came back a fresher and better footballer. Life is for living, that's the way I look at it. You've got to be enjoying what you're doing."

And "enjoying" the game is key for the Moycullen man, who at 31 has found some of the best form of his career.

"I think when you're enjoying your football you go out and express yourself and you play well.

"Thankfully I've been injury-free. I think my level of fitness and conditioning is right up there where it needs to be. We've a great strength and conditioning team inside with Galway at the minute so I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

"I might be 31 years of age but I'm enjoying it more than ever.

"When you're competitive every day you go out, it makes it easier. Whether you win, lose or draw, if you're at it on any given day you're going to be in with a chance of winning the game and that's definitely been the case in the last three or four years. It has been really enjoyable.

"A lot of that is down to Kevin and the structures he's put in place and the challenges he's thrown at us.

"There's a lot of personal stuff on the side that he throws at you to make you a better player. It's definitely all good."

Bradshaw can't shed any light on why Galway have been able to compete on a more consistent basis.

"If I had the answer to that I may have a couple of All-Irelands over the past few years.

"I think the level of competition in the squad has definitely helped us.

"Everybody has to be on their 'A' game when they go out on every given day whether that's a challenge match or a league game, an FBD game or a championship match. Because someone is only waiting in the wings to come in and take your place.

"We have, I think, 32 lads in our squad at the minute. And trying to pick a 26 and a 15 out of that is proving a huge challenge, I have no doubt, to Kevin. I think having that level of competition (has helped).

"There's been enough talked about it, Paddy Tally to our coaching set-up and that has definitely helped matters as well.

"I know Paddy's an infectious fella when it comes to football and the level of intensity in training is where it needs to be."

That 2013 defeat to Mayo still rankles. The lessons have been harsh but Bradshaw is better for having coming out the other side.

"It was a bad day. It was definitely the lowest point of my career, looking back on that. But we've moved on.

"In 2014 we played up in Castlebar in the Connacht final, we lost by a couple of points and then, since that, '15, '16, '17 and this year we're in there or thereabouts with Mayo who are the benchmark in Connacht football, if not the All-Ireland.

"They're competing in All-Irelands year in, year out so once you're competing with them you'd like to think we're in a good place.

"But we can't get too far ahead of ourselves. Consistency is the name of the game. If you play well one day, you've got to play well a second day and the third day and the fourth day.

"We've unfortunately learned hard lessons on that but this year more than ever we're in a good place."

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