Thursday 5 December 2019

'I would have no problem coming back once there was an opportunity to work' - Michael Bradley

Ex-Connacht boss is open to the idea of coaching in Ireland again

The start of the season hasn't exactly gone according to plan but on Saturday Zebre recorded their first victory of their PRO14 campaign with their 39-12 win over Dragons. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
The start of the season hasn't exactly gone according to plan but on Saturday Zebre recorded their first victory of their PRO14 campaign with their 39-12 win over Dragons. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

It has been almost 10 years since Michael Bradley coached in Ireland. To say that the landscape has changed in the time since would be a massive understatement.

Bradley recognises as much, which on one hand is why he would love another crack at home, but on the other, he knows that probably makes it difficult for him to get back into the system.

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Irish rugby has moved on and so too has Bradley, even if he has taken the road less travelled via Edinburgh, Georgia and Bucharest en route to Zebre. The 57-year-old's last three jobs haven't exactly been glamorous, but his love of the game still burns as strong as ever.

There are worse places in the world to be living than Italy, and now in his third season with Zebre, Bradley and his employers will expect to see the club push on.

The start of the season hasn't exactly gone according to plan but on Saturday Zebre recorded their first victory of their PRO14 campaign with their 39-12 win over Dragons.

It has been a testing time in Bradley's career, yet he has never been one to shirk a challenge and having played a part in helping to stabilise Zebre's future the next step is to translate that into results on the pitch.

In attempting to do so he has added two Irish locks to his squad in fellow Cork native Ian Nagle and Mick Kearney, who joined from Leinster during the summer.

"It's been going very well, because two years ago Zebre were very unstable and there wasn't a clear direction in terms of recruitment policy," Bradley explains.

"We're in a good position now in terms of stabilisation. We know where the club will be based and that there is finance there to keep the club going. There is no threat into the future, which is great.

"The process now is to find the balance between bringing young Italian players through, giving them the experience, while also being as competitive as we can be. Conor O'Shea was a good help to us when he was here.

"There has been a realisation that the national team is very important for the future of professional rugby in Italy and it needs to become the centre of the high performance drive. Italy is a soccer country. You will have pockets of cities and areas that will be strong in rugby. You just need to develop those."

Bradley had a good working relationship with O'Shea who recently stepped down from his role as head coach of Italy, which has left a huge void. O'Shea sought a fresh challenge, and one wonders when the time will come for Bradley to do the same.

He was linked with the Ulster job before Dan McFarland was appointed last year, but that won't stop him from throwing his hat into the ring if another suitable role comes up on these shores.

"I would have no problem coming back once there was an opportunity to work," Bradley insists. "I don't have any immediate desire to come back but if there is an opportunity, home is home. You would like to challenge yourself with the resources and the backing that the teams now have.

"I suppose at this stage I have kind of hardened up my view of how the game should be played. If you look at world rugby and where sides have come through and won championships, they tend to hold onto the ball and play a lot of rugby. It's risky.


"If an Irish province wants to go in that direction then that's a good direction for them to go in. You have to balance that with the success of Leinster. They have the ability to switch it either way. They are in a very good place at the moment.

"I like to coach that type of rugby. So, winning at all costs, playing conservative rugby, doesn't do it for me."

Bradley's seven years spent coaching Connacht, as well as a short stint with the national team in 2008, means that the IRFU know what he is about, even if he feels he has moved with the times too. For all that returning home is an attractive proposition, he enjoys being able to live abroad away from certain elements of Irish society.

"Obviously you miss your friends, you miss your family and there are times when you need to be there," he says.

"But other than that, you don't miss hearing regular Joes every day, non-stop on repeat telling everybody how miserable everybody else is. And the weather on top of that.

"It's interesting because Ireland is somewhat dominated, from a politics point of view by England and America. In Ireland you hear and see a lot about America and England, but in Italy you hear nothing about it.

"Trump is never mentioned, but you'd swear he was the President of Ireland with the amount of mentions he gets at home.

"Brexit, oh my God, it's like a two-year old's rattler. It's just there all of the time whereas it's never mentioned in Italy. If you ask me, do I miss Ireland? On balance!"

It may have been nearly a decade since he packed his bags for Edinburgh, but Bradley has very much kept his finger on the pulse of Irish rugby. He regularly watches the provinces, while he was as gutted as anyone with the World Cup let-down.

"I was disappointed for Ireland because it was a huge focus for this group of players. It was an opportunity that they sensed they could take and get to a semi-final, which would have been at least a step forward.

"I think the realisation of what the defeat to Japan meant in terms of losing control of the group had an impact.

"For sides that are not going to dominate up front, you have to find another way of putting pressure on the opposition. So in the big picture, if you are talking about Ireland winning a World Cup, then you have to have a style of play that will enable you to win a match against a juggernaut. If you don't play that way, you can't just play it on the day.

"The weekend before last was very interesting from a viewing point of view. They were all big Champions Cup matches. Connacht went to Toulouse, but the week before they beat Montpellier. I watched that match and it was a fantastic victory.

"It was David versus Goliath in terms of size but the detail in Connacht's work was very good. If you have that level of rugby intelligence going into a match, it's a different proposition to what I am working with in Zebre at the moment. But that's life."

For now, Bradley is happy to keep plugging away in Parma until the time comes to try something different.

If that opportunity were to arise in Ireland, it would see him come full circle in what has been an interesting journey, but he is not exactly sitting by the phone waiting for the IRFU.

"I'll keep working in Italy as I am now. I will keep trying to evolve the play of Zebre to a point where we start learning how to win matches - getting over the line playing that type of rugby.

"We'll see where that takes me then," concluded Bradley.

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