Eoghan Bradley is already one of the most experienced players in the Steelstown squad, despite being only 23 years old. Pic by Tom Heaney, nwpresspics
Eoghan Bradley should be making his way across Central America with his friends this Sunday, but no holiday would ever compare to playing an All-Ireland final at Croke Park.
This Steelstown fairytale comes to a conclusion this weekend, after which Eoghan will head off into the Sunday, hopefully with an All-Ireland winner’s medal around his neck. Until then though, he has given his friends the brush off, with much more important matters to deal with. When he booked the holiday back in July, he never, ever would have dream that Steelstown’s season would still be ongoing come February.
“I kept putting them off and putting them off and they said ‘To hell with you Eoghan, we’re going on without you’,” he laughed. “They are away on; we are doing Central America for two or three months so I’m going to join them whenever it’s all over. I’m looking forward to that, but at the end of the day I have a job to do here. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I can go on holidays anytime so this is my full concentration this week.”
Eoghan was speaking just before heading out to training on Monday night. You didn’t even have to look out the window to know that it was lashing rain and blowing a gale, but he was ‘buzzing’ to get out regardless, and why shouldn’t he be. This is a very, very special week at Steelstown Brian Óg’s, once which may never be repeated.
“If you had said this time last year that I would be playing in an All-Ireland final I would say you were taking the hand out of me,” he said.
“It’s mad. Of course, we didn’t set out to win the All-Ireland at the start of the year. We just set out as we have done each way all along, taking each game as it comes, thinking ‘what can we get out of this game and what can we improve on in this game’ and taking it each game as it comes.
“That was the same after winning Derry as well, because we weren’t really thinking about winning Ulster. It was more ‘We have the Donegal champions this week – let’s see who their main threats are, and let’s see where are strengths can exploit their weaknesses and take it from there’.
“We have got a bit of luck along the way, but I think you make your own luck when you’re trying your best. We have been a wee bit lucky but it makes it all worthwhile once you’re here. Winning Derry was mad; it was the monkey off the back and taking each game as it comes after that.”
The 23-year-old is one of the few Steelstown players to have already played at Croke Park, doing so with Derry Minors. As young as he is, he carries huge experience, having played in the 2016, 2019 and 2020 Derry finals with Brian Óg’s. He has seen a lot so far.
“I suppose I’m just lucky enough to be honest,” he continued. “Myself and Eoghan Concannon were playing with Derry minors when we played in the first Derry final in 2016 and Paul O’Hea brought us in in August in the second or third group game.
“We were lucky enough to be brought in and both of us played and we got to the final. We missed the boat that year but it makes it all worth it now because winning it this time brought Ulster and the opportunity to win an All-Ireland getting to the final so it really is brilliant. It’s third time lucky with Derry.
“It just shows the resilience of the team because we have been able to deal with whatever style of play teams have thrown at us. Moortown went ultra-defensive against us and Na Gaeil went with a high press which starved us of ball into the full forward line. We were able to break that down, we were very patient, so we are able to deal with different tasks, so hopefully come this weekend, no matter what Trim throw at us, we’re ale to take it and come out the other end successfully.”
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of Steelstown’s success this year has been the impact of players, short on game time, but big on impact, with each member of the squad chipping in in valuable ways.
“I think Hugh’s in-game decisions have been immaculate to be honest,” Eoghan admitted. “Some of the subs who come on, boys like Emmett Deane who came on in the final and scored an absolute wonder point. He didn’t play a lot of football before that but to make that decision to come on and for Emmett to take the chance is just magical. He shows such trust in the lads.
“I think the main difference this year is that maybe in the past Steelstown teams we have relied on the 15 on the pitch to get us over the line and maybe we haven’t been blessed with such a strong bench, but we have really worked on our bench.
“We are playing 15 on 15 matches and we’re lucky and blessed to have 30 players to be able to do that. I know that a lot of smaller clubs might not have the numbers to be able to do that but we can do it and we can do it at an insanely high standard. McGrath always says it, it doesn’t matter who lines out and who finishes it, because we know we have got 25 or 30 lads who can do the exact same job.”
Steelstown Brian Óg’s will play at Croke Park this Sunday hoping that their incredible journey comes to a thrilling end, and Eoghan is confident that having come so far, he and his team mates can complete the set of Derry, Ulster, Ireland champions.
“It’s obviously huge but you try not to think about it,” he explained. “I know that’s hard because you know you’re playing and it’s the pinnacle of the sport, and it’s the best ground in the country but you can’t really think about it.
“I think it’s important to enjoy the occasion and enjoy in the moment that you’re playing in an All-Ireland final in Croke Park. It’s a dream come true. We can park that, we can enjoy that we’re there and enjoy the match, but it’s full concentration this week in training, it’s full concentration on the opposition and hopefully we can come away with the win. For the 60 minutes that’s in it we have a job to do and we’re there to do it, no matter where it is.”
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