Sport

Opposites attract for Eoin Bradley

Jack O'Connor - with Tyrone man Paddy Tally part of his ticket - returned to the Kerry hot-seat for the third time weeks after the Kingdom's 2021 All-Ireland exit to Tyrone. Picture by Philip Walsh
Jack O'Connor - with Tyrone man Paddy Tally part of his ticket - returned to the Kerry hot-seat for the third time weeks after the Kingdom's 2021 All-Ireland exit to Tyrone. Picture by Philip Walsh Jack O'Connor - with Tyrone man Paddy Tally part of his ticket - returned to the Kerry hot-seat for the third time weeks after the Kingdom's 2021 All-Ireland exit to Tyrone. Picture by Philip Walsh

Paddy Tally seems to be a name that is on everyone’s lips at the moment, much like the latter end of last season. A Celtic cross tends to give you that reputation. Nationwide respect derives from there and nowhere else.

Back in 2014, and part of the Derry set up, Tally was just an incognito mastermind. Unassuming and all consuming to the same degree. It just depended on whether you were on one side of the wall or the other. In camp, or away from it.

Chrissy McKaigue was there. So too Gareth McKinless, Ciaran McFaul, and Benny Heron. Former Oakleafer Eoin Bradley was among them, listening to Tally’s words like the Gospel. He speaks of a man that is far beyond this reputation of defensive structures:

“Paddy did a bit of everything. He took all the sessions, all the training. With us in Derry, he just took control. Everyone knew their job.

“He just never got the praise until he won something. Jack O’Connor is no fool, he’s been around a while, and he wanted Paddy Tally down in Kerry.”

Bradley describes him as “defensively minded, but not a defence coach”. 

Mind you, a sporting arena is a more apt place for pessimism than most, a home for negativity, where it can reap rewards. The great Roy Keane is perhaps the prime example, outlining before his “anticipate the worst” mentality.

Don’t expect Shane McGuigan to lay one off, when there is the chance he might swing one from fifty yards. Odharn Lynch probably hasn’t got the biggest boot, but what if his kickout does clear the press? What if you’re caught three-on-three as a result, or worse? 

Well, with a contingency plan, you won’t be. That’s where pessimism smiles a little bit.

The best defenders are probably the glass-half empty type. For every Clifford, there is a Tadhg Morley. The orchestrator of cautiousness consistently scans to reassemble his colleagues. 

His job is essentially to reduce his own workload. He creates time and space by always being two or three passes ahead. Morley is the foundation of the Tally defensive structure. Derry need to occupy him.

Bradley doesn’t see this Kerry team as deserving of this football purist label they seem to be associated with. Indeed, the running theme after their quarter-final victory was that they “out-Tyroned Tyrone”. Attack wins matches, defence wins championships.

“Kerry and Derry play almost the exact same way, only Kerry have the top, top forwards. Derry haven’t got just the same calibre outside of Shane McGuigan.

“In today’s game, a forward's job is more important than a defender’s. They have to track back, and they have to burst forward. 

“Kerry’s boys mightn’t be too keen on going the other way, because when Derry go forward, it’s going to be every man.

“Derry have an awful lot of pace, an awful lot of legs. God help the man that is going to have to mark Brendan Rogers”.

The match-ups will be absolutely fascinating. The two Cliffords, David and Paudie, seem destined to be harassed by Chrissy McKaigue and Conor McCluskey respectively. Bradley is also quite confident that new kid on the block Ryan McEvoy will face the challenge of tracking Paul Geaney in only his second Championship game at HQ.

At the other end, the key battle will likely be Jason Foley and McGuigan. Foley, a 200m sprinter in his younger days, certainly has the speed, but this will be a different task altogether. He won’t face foot races anywhere near that distance. It will be a battle of agility.

McGuigan likes to operate around the edge of the ‘D, twisting, turning, picking up hand passes, and running loops. He simply has to get the better of Foley if Derry are to reach the 18 or 19 scores Ciaran Meenagh’s team need to reach the decider.

David Clifford, who was one from nine from play against Tyrone, will not be so off colour again. Bradley feels a match-up with McKaigue will be a “great battle”, noting that the Fossa man seems to be operating a little deeper this year in search of space.

And despite their underdog tag, the Oakleafers are in a better place this year than last:

“I think it’ll be a lot closer than people think. We blew Clare away last year, and I’m not sure if that helped us heading into the Galway match.

“There was a lot more hype, and now this year Kerry have blown Tyrone out of the water. 

“All the talk is of a Dublin-Kerry final. I think that Dublin v Monaghan is a bit more clear cut than Derry v Kerry.

“Even a simple thing like the weather being off could be a factor. Up here we’re quietly confident”.

One thing Derry certainly aren’t short of is belief. Last year, Damien Comer’s majors shell shocked them. Derry started every Championship match rapidly up until that point, and then faced with the new scenario of chasing the game, they failed.

This year, they have more experience. They’ve started fast, they’ve started slow. They’ve scraped by playing poorly, and been beaten playing well. But they haven’t lost since 2 April. In a condensed season, the league final belongs to a different era. 

Apparently, it only takes three weeks for a habit to stick, but unless you’re Marty Whelan, winning streaks don’t last forever.

This current squad have built to the point where the entire county has “bought into” the project. On Sunday, it either comes unstuck, or it begins to reel in the ever-elusive glory days.

It might get very ugly, and that might be perfectly fine against a confident Kingdom. In the words of Desidirius Erasmus: “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

This is Derry’s chance to overthrow power, and that prospect alone will have them sleeping with one eye open. Opposites attract.