Mark Bradley: A man on the inside
IT was only if you saw him in the flesh that you could possibly have appreciated what Mark Bradley brought to Tyrone last year.
The TV cameras will always present a game’s influencers in the form of those that have either the most touches of the ball or those that have the most spectacular touches.
The 5’7”, 11-stone Killyclogher man fell into neither of those brackets and yet when things were motoring along nicely last year, there was a sense that he was the catalyst for their improvement.
Mickey Harte had stuck with his one-up-top gameplan, but changed the identity of the one. It was against Donegal that his worth really shone. All day he took the usually unflappable Paddy McGrath for a tour, but it wasn’t your standard roving style.
Instead, he confined himself to the 21 yards in front of the opposition goal. Every run was across the line. Never out. Tyrone utilised the diagonal kick and Bradley won everything. The two points he added were a mere fraction of his contribution that day.
That was how he played all year. But perhaps if anything underlined just how unsuited that style was to trying to crack the Dublin nut, it was in watching him make the same runs all day in Croke Park that August afternoon.
He’d played the whole year isolated but he’d never looked as lonely up there.
“Obviously you want to be on the ball but whether we’re playing Trillick there on Friday night or Dublin last year, it doesn’t always work like that,” he surmises.
“Sometimes you have to make those unselfish runs in the hope of someone else getting the ball, and creating opportunities for someone else.
“You have to be patient nowadays, really patient, because teams are going to play defensive. There’s no point getting frustrated about it because you know before you go out that worst case scenario is that it’ll be clogged up and frustrating. There’s no point letting it get to you.”
Having beaten off any potential criticisms with four top-drawer displays on their way to an Ulster title and a place in the last four of the All-Ireland series, the house threatened to crumble completely on the back of what Mickey Harte described as “a horror movie” against Dublin.
It may have been parked but its debris has led to a shift in attacking policy. Not a seismic one, but Tyrone have been keeping two in the full-forward line rather than one a lot more often this season.
They’ve built on tentative moves that were made last year to bring kicking back into their play, with Stephen O’Neill’s influence on that side of things having been widely heralded.
Lee Brennan’s come in and made himself an automatic choice already. With the half-forward line more settled and Cathal McShane likely to be a roving 14, Bradley could find himself locked in a battle with Connor McAliskey for the second spot inside.
Bradley is nothing but effusive for the Trillick maestro, whose hamstring injury is expected to have cleared up by Sunday.
“Having Lee there has been super. He’s so naturally gifted, no matter what sort of ball it is, some of the stuff he can do is incredible. He’s been a breath of fresh air.
“He’ll take on whoever he’s on and go for the jugular. That’s been a criticism of Tyrone in the past, I know in last year’s League we were highlighted for not scoring goals. He’s really added something different.”
Monaghan are driving on the same highway. Their own pummelling at the Dubs’ cruel hands brought about a change of direction from Malachy O’Rourke that bears the same branding as Tyrone’s.
Less emphasis on defence, more bodies up the pitch, more kick-passing, less concession of uncontested kickouts. It hasn’t gone unnoticed and Bradley doesn’t expect the game to revert to Ulster’s typeset.
“Not the way Monaghan have been playing, no. They’ve looked like they’re going for their scores and they want to play open, expansive football. Obviously we’ll be wary of that.
“They took Dublin and many teams apart this year, and we were one of them. I think it will be a good game of football. Both are improving on being more attacking.”
As he sits in front of a small assembly of journalists in a sun-baked Garvaghey, he’s half-dosed with the cold. He’d played against Trillick on the Friday night before the county squad all headed for Carton House in Kildare for their annual training weekend.
That round of club games put a natural block on how much Tyrone could do physically in terms of their preparation across that weekend, but Bradley says there was more than enough taken from the two-day break to give it merit.
“You want to be playing football so you definitely wouldn’t take away the matches from the Friday night, that’s for sure.
“There’s loads of things you can work on and it doesn’t all have to be at 100mph. It’s tactically more than anything.
“You’re two weeks out from the championship so you’re not going to be doing anything taxing, there’s going to be no 5k runs or anything like that.
“I have to say I really, really enjoyed it. It was like being a professional footballer.
“You’re waking up, doing your recovery, you have maybe a gym session that’s optional and you’re on the pitch all the time. It’s unbelievable being part of that.
“Obviously the good weather helped too, I don’t know if it had been raining it might have been as great.
“It’s thoroughly enjoyable and it sort of gives you an insight into being a professional footballer, which is cool, it’s not something we’re used to. It’s a team bonding experience as well.”
At 24, there is much more to come. Playmaker, ball-winner, finisher, whatever’s required. Last year it was all three – and don’t underestimate how important he is to Tyrone.