IT’S full speed ahead for a third consecutive Derry football final for Emmett Bradley – but the Glen man says he isn’t ruling out a potential return to county football next year.
Having struggled with tendinopathy in the hamstring in the early part of 2022, he lost his starting place with Derry for their opening championship game against then-All-Ireland champions Tyrone.
Bradley went on to have significant impact off the bench in each of their games, including one memorable 120-yard run and score in the Ulster semi-final against Monaghan.
It became a source of frustration that he couldn’t regain his place in the starting line-up last year and with his wedding at the start of 2023 among other things, Bradley opted out.
He would have been in with a good shout of a starting place but for a team that hasn’t really had any punch off its bench all year, he was missed in whatever role he would have played.
New Derry manager Mickey Harte was in the crowd at Owenbeg on Sunday as Glen overcame a fierce battle from their neighbours Slaughtneil to reach next weekend’s decider against Magherafelt.
He takes over the reigning back-to-back Ulster champions who came within a whisker of an All-Ireland final with defeat against Kerry in the last four, a day when Bradley might have been very useful.
“It’s very tough, it was tough to watch,” said the 30-year-old.
“When you’re competitive and you are a competitor, it’s something you train for and something you work for.
“I was behind them every step of the way and hoping they’d get over the line, they were so close. It’s not the end. We’ll see what happens over the next couple of months.
“You definitely believe you’re fit to do something. I always believed that. There’s only so many things you can control. We’ll meet that question when it comes around again.
“I’ll definitely be open to thinking about it but we’ll see what happens. We’ll focus on the here and now for now.”
One of Glen’s big leaders over the last few seasons, arguably their best player en-route to the All-Ireland club final last year, he and Conor Glass’s formidable partnership will get another test in 10 days’ time against Magherafelt pair Dan Higgins and Danny Heavron.
Their 2019 county final meeting, won by the Rossas, attracted the biggest crowd ever at a Derry final when 10,000 people poured into Celtic Park.
Magherafelt were seriously impressive in their own semi-final win over neighbours Newbridge, controlling a potentially tricky game from start to finish and keeping their opponents to just 0-2 in total.
Glen will be the bookies’ hot favourites but many people felt from the start of the year that this would be the final if they avoided each other.
“We’re a very grounded group, we take nothing for granted and we know we’ll get nothing handed to us unless we work for it,” said Bradley.
“Thankfully that’s a belief and an understanding across the group. Same as Slaughtneil, we give every team respect and the only thing that’ll do in the final is a better performance than we gave there.”
If it’s composure you’re after, both of next weekend’s Derry finalists got there by showing they have it in spades.
Whereas Magherafelt’s plan unpicked Newbridge from start to finish, Glen faced a very different challenge from a fired-up Slaughtneil determined to right the wrongs of their last two county final defeats to their neighbours.
Malachy O’Rourke’s side were glad of the half-time whistle when it arrived, with the sides clashing briefly as they left the field with Glen a single point ahead.
The holders came out and, as O’Rourke put it, “used the ball more effectively” to open a six-point gap in the next ten minutes that they were glad of come the end.
Bradley said their two-time Ulster Club winning manager “demands the best of us” and that calmness is a huge focus of theirs.
“Between before the game and half-time, the message never really changed,” he said.
“You mightn’t believe me but we were just very focussed on getting a performance right. We had a very good idea what Slaughtneil were gonna bring to the game, they were gonna bring that edge and bit of physicality and really throw the kitchen sink at us, and fair play to them, that’s absolutely what they did.
“They made it a serious battle. The atmosphere and the energy out there was electric, there were men bouncing off each other left, right and centre.
“We just knew what we had to do, we’ve been on the road a long time in terms of the last three years and coming up against teams throwing everything at you. We just had to stay very calm and stick to what we do well.
“Malachy demands the best of us, and demands really high standards. A huge theme in our group is composure and calmness and making sure we’re in control. It’s something we pride ourselves on.
“We need to bring the bite and the edge on any given day to perform but calmness and composure are big elements, especially when it comes down to those finer moments in games. We were able to come through it thankfully.”