Ryan Bradley: "We never give
He doesn’t like the limelight, hates it in fact, but
Ryan Bradley is becoming used to being an easily
recognisable figure as he goes about his daily business.
He steps into the foyer of An Grianan Hotel in Burt just
past noon on a grey Saturday in August and he's found
himself in the middle of a handful of well-wishers.
A family of Buncrana natives are up on native soil from
Dublin for the weekend and have stopped to discuss
football. It's all on everybody’s lips and is
You can sense a little unease as he becomes the centre
of attention for a time.
In a few months' time,
he'll really be the centre of attention in the same
venue as he weds fiancee Claire Sheerin, a first cousin
of Michael Murphy's, on New Year's Eve.
Bradley keeps himself to himself and doesn't go seeking
the media spotlight. If anything he tries to avoid it.
"I hate the limelight. It's hard to get used to it. When
you're in the limelight I suppose you have to do a wee
bit,” he says, the topic of conversation a tad
unavoidable after the dramatics of the All-Ireland
quarter-final win against Kildare a couple of weeks
"You meet everyone and even non-GAA people are talking
about it. It's given the town a big lift and it's the
same all across Inishowen and the county as a whole.
Hopefully we can keep it going now and get another day
Buncrana GAA star Ryan Bradley.
Ryan Bradley's story is one
of the biggest success stories of the year so far. It's
as far back as 2005 that he made his Donegal debut,
under Brian McEniff in the National League. He was in
Boston for two months that summer and missed out on the
intercounty scene in 2006, before
being brought back by Brian McIver for the League
winning campaign of 2007.
He was in again for a time in 2008 and at the beginning
of 2009. He was back in America that summer, played one
game with Donegal Boston and crossed the Atlantic again,
sleeping on a mattress on a floor in Boston quickly
losing its appeal. He'd lost his love for the game and
it looked like his time had moved on. Even with Buncrana,
the effort was gone, the spark missing.
“Nah, I had no interest,” he admits.
“I wasn't fit, I didn't
want to get fit and I had just lost interest.
“I played under John Joe in his first year during the
League, but then I got injured and left the panel. “I
had no interest then for a year and a half and didn't
“Donegal was in a bad period, so I didn't miss too much
He had played underage for the county under men like
Enda Nolan, Seanie McEniff and Joe McBrearty. His talent
was never in question, but it was going to take
something special to bring back the appetite.
The call came in early August. Jim McGuinness made just
the one phonecall and Ryan Bradley was on his way to
becoming a transformed man.
“I talked to Jim once and after that conversation he had
it drummed into my head,” says the 25-year old.
“If I hadn't have come back after that phonecall I'd
have been better just to give up football.
Ryan Bradley celebrates with his
team-mates in July after Donegal were crowned Ulster
champions for 2011.
“It was his plan, his
set-up and what he wanted to do for Donegal football. I
just wanted to be a part of that.”
Before McGuinness called, Bradley weighed 15 stone 5 on
the scales. Notably after the Kildare game, McGuinness
mentioned Bradley by name as he talked of the sacrifice
and effort put in by the players, telling the assembled
media that he was now a trim 13 stone 8.
“There was a serious amount of work, a lot of running on
the roads and a lot of gym work. I'd have been training
maybe four or five nights a week,” says Bradley now.
“I'd never have been doing gym work before, but I was
one-on-one with Adam Speer. We had a group of us
together in Letterkenny. I'd be up
the odd morning for assessment at 7 in the morning, the
rest I'd do at home in Buncrana.
“I'd never seen that level of commitment or training
before. It was close to it under Brian McIver, but there
wouldn't have been the same gym work. I think maybe we
got away too much. It was a bit lax in terms of checking
up on boys, but now Adam keeps a close eye on everything
Bradley travels to and from training with Tommy
McKinley. Some mornings he'll meet with Karl Lacey, Colm
McFadden, Rory Kavanagh, Christy Toye, Daniel
McLaughlin, Michael Murphy, Kevin Rafferty, Martin
McElhinney and Neil Gallagher ('the most competitive
person I know!') for a workout.
“I've been in three or four different panels, but I've
never seen it as close before – everybody is in this
together,” he says.
“There's a real closeness and things have really gelled.
Every player respects the other and that really helps
when you're backing each other up at training. There are
30 men fighting for 15 places so there is no holding
back. Training is really competitive. You wouldn't get
away with holding back with Jim.
“Everything is finely detailed. He is so good at
explaining things – he simplifies everything. No-one is
scared to talk or ask questions.”
Bradley only made his first start in the Ulster
Championship this May when he was in the starting XV for
the Antrim game. That drab affair was the talk of the
nation for a week after it. Bradley scored two points
and was named the Sunday Game Man of the Match.
Comments by Pat Spillane, who suggested that Bradley had
been the best of a bad bunch and that no-one had
deserved the award, drew the ire from McGuinness in the
aftermath of Donegal's next championship game against
The manager made it clear that Bradley had been
disrespected – and he wasn't standing for it.
Bradley shrugs off the comments of the controversial
“It was strange hearing what Pat said, but it didn't
bother me really,” he says three months on.
“It was great to get the Man of the Match award and Pat
had no call to say what he did. But that was his opinion
on the game. If he didn't like it, he could have left it
at that and talked about the tactics.
“There was no call to say what he did, but it doesn't
bother me. I wouldn't even think about it at all. He
said the last day that he respected us even though he
didn't like how we were playing. I don't really care
what he said. As long as we won the game, that's the
“It's been about getting a gameplan to suit us as a
bunch of players. It's been working so far, so I see no
reason we should change it. Donegal have played 'nice'
football for years, but it hasn't won medals. It hasn't
bothered us at all.
“Whatever Jim and Rory tell us to do we'll just do it
and we're not bothered by outsiders.”
Traditionally viewed as an attacker, Bradley's role has
become more withdrawn since his return to the fold, and
he can often been seen foraging in his own full-back
“It was hard to get used to,” he admits.
“Tackling wouldn't have been a big part of my game. I'm
enjoying it though and that's probably because I'm fit
enough for it. If I can get up the field it's always
nice to tag on a few scores.
“I'm definitely happy the way it's going. I can still
improve on my tackling. I'm lucky to have got the chance
to do it so I have to take that chance.”
Last month, he etched a little piece of history,
becoming the fist Buncrana clubman to represent Donegal
in an Ulster final win.
“The buzz after that game was unbelievable with the
crowd all on the field,' he says of the win over Derry
“It was pure relief too. It was amazing standing there
and seeing the fans flood out onto the pitch. I never
thought it would have been like that. Even that night,
in Donegal Town there was something special.”
Nothing could have prepared him for the high-intense
finale against Kildare a couple of weeks later, though.
That was the evening that Donegal's never-say-die
mentality was laid bare on Croke Park. Bradley never
doubted the outcome, though, even as the clock ticked
ominously towards the end with Kildare in the lead.
“Never once,” he says. “I said to Marty Boyle, sitting
beside me on the bench, that there was another score in
us. I don't think any players believed we were beaten.
Kevin's shot hung in the air for a lifetime, but once I
seen the 'keeper moving away I knew it was over. The
place just erupted.
“It'll help us now. It gave us that belief that we can
win in Croke Park. But that belief has been in us all
“It comes from the management. They make us believe that
we are good enough and tell us never to give up. That
attitude comes from training too. When it gets tough at
training we keep going; you just find something in the
legs to keep it going. We never give up, never stop.
“The belief was there all through the League. We learned
a lot during the League. Everyone got trust for each
other. We never eat the head off each other, we try and
work things out and do the things we've been taught to
Born-again Bradley is now just 70 minutes away from an
All-Ireland final. But in the way is one of the most
formidable units in the country.
That it's Dublin who will march alongside them on Sunday
makes the final seem further in the distance. But
quietly, you get the feeling that deep down Ryan Bradley
believes that there might be another kick from Tir
He says: "The Dubs will be very tough. Tyrone are a
great team, but looking at Dublin, they're fast,
physical, quick and strong. They're very intelligent and
they kick the ball well.
"Their inside forwards are excellent and the defence is
very well set-up. The two Brogans are outstanding
“We respect them. We respect every team we play, we have
to do that because they're a great team and are going
well. We're not happy with second best. After we won
Ulster, everyone said that we'd be happy enough with
that - but that's not the way it is.”