Mayo clash is the perfect opportunity for Derry to rectify their dip in form says Emmett Bradley

Experienced midfielder has been through hard times with Oak Leafers in the past

Emmett Bradley's second half goal settled Derry nerves after three Championship defeats. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Emmett Bradley's second half goal settled Derry nerves after three Championship defeats. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

EMMETT Bradley has been through the storm before. Yes, Derry stock has fallen dramatically but they’re still standing and on Saturday beating Mayo – something they managed three months’ ago in Castlebar - will send them to an All-Ireland quarter-final and back onto the shortlist for Sam Maguire contenders.

It was blue skies and sunshine for Derry until the end of March but spring hasn’t turned to summer as yet and no-one forecast that dark clouds that came after the Ulster loss to Donegal and have lingered and grown thicker ever since.

But Bradley and others including Chrissy McKaigue, Conor McCluskey, Paul Cassidy, Shane McGuigan and Niall Toner were there in 2018 when Derry were relegated to Division Four.

So don’t tell him there’s a crisis – he knows what a crisis is.

“Since I started in 2012, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster,” says the Glen midfielder.

“I suppose right from when we were Division One initially right down to Division Four and right back up… So you’ve had all the experiences and emotions you could have as a county player and in more recent times Derry has experienced a lot of success compared to what we had over the previous 20-25 years.

“The times have been great for Derry. You see the amount of kids running about in Derry jerseys... That wasn’t happening five or six years ago, so to have that is brilliant.

“Obviously the recent dip in form, there’s been a lot of talk and there’s been quite a bit of noise around it, naturally enough, and that’s something that as a playing group we need to face and the challenge is Castlebar this weekend.

“No better opportunity to try and rectify that and it’s going to be a huge test against one of the top teams in the country.”

He enjoys a challenge. Recently the affable midfielder swapped his teaching job for a career as a software engineer with Microsoft. When his phone rings these days it’s because the ‘tech guy’ in the client’s office hasn’t been able to sort the gremlins at his end and needs some expert advice.

He has a four and-a-half month old daughter on his hands now too so he’s a busy man but you better believe that he’ll pour all his energy into digging Derry out of the hole they’re in on Saturday. He did that last weekend when he lashed the ball into Westmeath’s net to ensure there was no shock in Newry.

Derry had gone into that game with rumours of in-fighting, acrimony and dressingroom discontentment with manager Mickey Harte swirling around after a humbling loss to Armagh in their round two fixture at Celtic Park.

Conor Glass and Ciaran McFaul contest a kickout during Derry's win against Westmeath last Saturday. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Conor Glass and Ciaran McFaul contest a kickout during Derry's win against Westmeath last Saturday. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

“It wasn’t easy, definitely not,” says Bradley.

“And obviously the noise and the negative energy around it obviously is a factor as well but to be fair to the group, there’s a lot of experience there.

“There’s a lot of us have been through the rough times with Derry as well, so we know that you have to appreciate these things and you don’t get to compete at the top level without performing at the top level.

“So it’s important for us to work to get back to that level and that’s the challenge that we face.

Last week the only game we were guaranteed was Westmeath and for us, the important thing was to get a result.

“It’s not always pretty. From the outside looking in, people would have thought: ‘Oh, Derry would have been heavy favourites for it’, but Galway only put Westmeath away in the last few minutes and Armagh had a strong second half against them but it was touch-and-go right up to half-time.

“So we knew they weren’t going to be easy and thankfully we were able to get over that line.”

Conor Glass and Eunan Mulholland scored two points apiece against Westmeath meaning Glen players contributed 1-4 out of Derry’s 2-7. Add in that Ciaran McFaul was named man of the match and there’s little evidence supporting the theory that the All-Ireland club champions are on their last legs. Indeed, Bradley has been delighted to see his neighbour Mulholland find his feet at county level this year.

“I live beside Eunan, so I’ve done loads of work with him since he was five or six,” he says with a chuckle when he’s asked about his former ‘FC Beaver’ team-mate.

Mulholland has been a find this season but Derry have lost some tried and tested performers since the National League came to its triumphant end and they’ve missed their ability, knowhow and leadership in games and in training too.

“It impacts a lot of things,” says Bradley.

“They’re players that really make things happen as well and the impact that can have on a team can be significant. You know, you take Niall Loughlin, Padraig McGrogan and Gareth (McKinless) and Conor Doherty and boys like that.

“They’re players who bring high energy to the game. That obviously can manifest and feed out into the rest of the group as well. So certainly it’s been a factor, but hopefully we’re able to get a number of those options back moving forward and hopefully they can help us or contribute this weekend.”

Derry’s 2-13 to 3-15 victory in Mayo just three months ago should contribute to their confidence. Bradley missed that game but the Oak Leafers were coasting with a nine-point lead at one stage and even when Mayo got their act together, Derry were still able to kick on and win by five.

But that was the League…

Mayo lost the Connacht final by a point and they moved through the gears in wins over Cavan and Roscommon before pushing Dublin to the brink last Sunday in the group finale. Dublin’s last gasp equaliser meant they took top spot and Mayo had to settle for a place in Saturday’s preliminary quarter-final.

“They probably should have got the win against Dublin,” says Bradley.

“They could very easily be thinking they should be sitting with a weekend off but they’ve had to take a different route, much like ourselves.

“A result for either team and you’re in the quarter-finals, you’re in the same situation as Kerry, Armagh, Donegal and Dublin.

“A win for ourselves, or a win for Mayo… Both teams are really going to believe they can win because we’re there on an equal footing and we’re there to win - that’s the plan.”