Siobhán Bradley: Slaughtneil adapting to change ahead of Croke showdown
Slaughtneil's team has taken on something of a new look this season but Siobhán Bradley hopes their campaign will have a familiar outcome. She spoke to Séamas McAleenan...
AIB All-Ireland Senior Club final: Croke Park 3pm Sunday March 1: Slaughtneil (Derry) v Sarsfield's (Galway)
SOMETHING familiar, yet something new is what Slaughtneil joint-captain Siobhán Bradley is expecting from Galway opponents Sarsfield's in Croke Park on Sunday.
Slaughtneil claimed their first two All-Ireland club titles in finals against the Galway side and they are now the only team that can stop the Emmett's achieving a record-equalling fourth successive title.
“Those games were back in 2017 and 2018 and they were tough games for us. But a lot can change in a camogie team over the course of a couple of years. You only have to look at our own team to realise that,” says Siobhán Bradley, a community nurse based in the Mid-Ulster hospital in Magherafelt.
“I think we have lost five players from the starting team in 2017, while a few others are in completely new positions. Josie McMullan started that final in corner-back and has been our full-forward since.
“I'm sure that Sarsfield's will have a similar turnover of players, some drifting away for different reasons, others finding new roles. And the management just has to adapt to change and re-organise to get the best out of the team.”
The biggest change since last year for the Derry champions has been the absence of two out of the three Cassidy sisters in defence with Éilís and Bróna both opting to spend the past year travelling: “As I said we have had to adapt our style to suit the players we have and the younger girls, like Céat (McEldowney) and Brídín (McAllister) have slotted in very well and they have probably given the team a new energy.
“They will tell you that we older players have helped them settle into the team, but when you see the way they train and play, it pushes us on as well.”
A few people have been more critical of the team's performances in the championship this year, yet the All-Ireland semi-final a couple of weeks ago resulted in their most comfortable win yet at that stage.
“We don't mind constructive criticism at all. We can take that on board and we always have a critical look at our own performance, as a team and as individuals.
“We have tended to make hard work of semi-finals. A couple of years ago we went to extra time with Thomastown and last year we had to score the last four points against the breeze to beat Ardrahan.
“Against Scariff-Ogonnolloe (from Clare) a couple of weeks ago we were really pleased to be as far ahead as we were at half-time.
“But we maybe should have pushed on more in the second half. We lost our shape a bit and they were a very good side.
“I think that we got tighter games in Derry this year because other teams are improving and looking at ways to beat us.
“Also it is hard to maintain a high level of consistency game after game.
“There are games where some of us don't get to the levels of other days and that is where the team support comes through.”
Turning back to Sarsfield's Siobhán believes that they have shown a high degree of consistency to come out of Galway once again: “The Galway championship is very competitive.
“It was no surprise to us that a new team (Ardrahan) came out of it last year.
“This autumn, with the county winning the All-Ireland, there was huge competition and Sarsfield's have come through again for their third title in four years.”
“We are expecting a really tough final. But we prepare the same as we always do.
“It's about getting the maximum out of our own team.”
One worry immediately after the semi-final was the ankle injury that forced the withdrawal of Shannon Graham ten minutes from the end.
“If the final had been a fortnight after the semi-final, she probably would have struggled to make the cut. But the five weeks' gap has helped her,'' she said.
“Shannon is a very driven player and she is very committed to being 100 per cent ready for every game.
“She is going well at training and I think that we can expect her to deliver her usual performance for the team.”
So can you enjoy playing in such high-profile games or does the enjoyment come after the final whistle?
“As a team and as individuals you never want to never lose focus or concentration in any championship game.
“But having said that, there has to be a degree of enjoyment in actually playing the games.
“These big days do not come around too often, so we have to enjoy every second of the game.”