Fifth consecutive Ulster title is the mother of all victories for Tina Bradley
IN THE 22nd minute of Saturday’s replayed Ulster senior club final Shannon Graham broke clear from one of the many rucks around midfield but over-hit a pass inside to Therese Mellon.
The sliotar had to be recycled to Olivia Rafferty. Her path was blocked and she hand-passed across for Tina Bradley to get a shot at a point. Emma McFadden brilliantly blocked her down. There were three defenders around her. Loughgiel looked to have the danger covered.
However a neat side-step from Bradley and she was through the gap bearing down on goal and the sliotar finished in the roof of the net. Slaughtneil were on their way to a fifth successive provincial title and the Offaly-native and team joint-captain went on to score 1-6.
Ironically had the competition been completed as planned in October last year, Bradley would not have been playing.
“Yeah, that’s right. I discovered I was pregnant just as the Derry championship was starting last year. So I didn’t have a lot to contribute, even though I got lifting the Cup with Louise (Dougan) at the end," she said.
Tony was born in April. The rescheduled Ulster and All-Ireland championships from last year were set for late June but were then moved to the end of the 2021 season after the national vote on a split season cancelled that plan. It allowed the new mother time to regain fitness.
“Last Sunday’s drawn final was very tough. We expected it to be. Coming here today we just felt we needed big performances from our older players, from Shannon (Graham), Louise, myself. I felt last week that our younger players were incredible. Today it was just a combined effort.
“We have been in tough finals before with Loughgiel where the play goes back and forth. But we are a resilient bunch. The chance to play in an Ulster final doesn’t come around too often. So you have to grab it by the scruff of the neck. We had to go for it.
“I thought there were some amazing performances out there. I thought our defence was so solid in the first half when we were against the breeze.
“We have played in really tight games over the last few years, whether it is Sarsfield’s, Thomastown or whoever and those types of matches hold to you later on. You feel that you can close out games when you get ahead.
“Loughgiel are up there with the best and we have to be on top of our game to beat them too. When we got ahead, we knew we had to draw on our experience to keep us there. We’ll see them again in January for the 2021 final and that will be another really tough game.”
Sinéad Mellon’s performance on Saturday earned her the Player of the Match award and Bradley was fulsome in her praise of her fellow forward who scored four points.
“I always believe that Sinéad is one of the best defensive forwards around. She can work back and hook and block with the best. And then she can get up there and take points like those today. It was devastating to have her go off at half-time last week. She got her just rewards today with Player of the Match.”
Tina Bradley also referenced team manager Siobhán Bradley who took over the reins this season. Bradley, who is expecting her second child this side of Christmas, had to miss the replay on Saturday after contracting Covid earlier in the week.
“Siobhán has been doing an incredible job since she came in, along with the boys there with her. It is tough enough watching games you could be playing in yourself, but it must have been really hard to have to watch from home on the live stream when you are totally powerless.
“Hopefully she gets back in with us next weekend.”
Turning to the coming weekend, Slaughtneil’s opponents will be Oulart-the-Ballagh, familiar foes for the Offaly native.
“Yeah, when I played with Offaly we would have played against Wexford a lot of time. About 10 years ago Wexford were winning All-Irelands and Oulart were one of the top clubs as well.
“I would also have played with some of those girls, Ursula Jacob etc on Gael Linn teams. Super, super players. So another tough game for us.”
But tough games are bread and butter to Slaughtneil in this 2020 championship. They have survived a replayed Derry final against Swatragh and now a replayed Ulster final against Loughgiel. Resilience is their hallmark.