By Frank Craig
Ryan Bradley says that if Donegal can get all their big men back around the middle third mix, it’ll make a big change to the way they’re currently having to play football.
The Buncrana bulldozer and 2012 All-Ireland winner under Jim McGuinness believes his former side are missing a bit of torque at this moment with a large chunk of their more physical players currently sidelined.
Bradley lists off Michael Langan, Hugh McFadden, Michael Murphy, Ciaran Thompson and Caolan McMonagle as just some of the players that have had little or no injury luck so far in the NFL.
But if Declan Bonner can get the majority of those casualties off the treatment table and back into the mix in time for Championship, then Bradley’s backing Donegal to be a match for absolutely anyone.
“You need that out there,” he said. “When those players are missing you’re not only missing that power, but also that leadership. They are the ones that feel teams out, let them know they’re there. In a way they are the team’s protection. We’re light around that middle section right now, because of injuries. And even with someone as good as (Shaun) Patton, it’s difficult to get a foothold out there if the right options aren’t in place.
“There are lads that the management need to get back on the pitch. We’re talking about massive players here. We have to hold off judgement until we see what we offer when the serious business of the Ulster Championship comes about. When I played with Donegal, the League was about surviving. That was it. And that’s all it really needs to still be about for Donegal.”
Bradley is currently back home in Inishowen for a short stay. But Qatar is where he, his wife Claire and his young family now call home. Still, he takes in most Donegal games on TV.
His former side has had its fair share of criticism so far in this Division 1 campaign. But Bradley explains how – in his time with his county – Jim McGuinness placed little or no stock on League form.
He says everything the Glenties guru plotted, from the very moment the squad regrouped in the depth of winter, was right away geared towards the Ulster SFC.
“We do need to add some variety to our football at this moment, there is no doubt about that. But Championship is what it’s all about. It’s been like that for quite a while now. Jim, and this is the honest truth, he didn’t give one f*** about the League.
“I remember getting absolutely hammered in Kerry in 2012. Battered on the scoreboard and battered on the field. They physically beat us – knocked lumps out of us. Paul Galvin should have been sent off three times that day, Bryan Sheehan too.
“They probably seen us as a side that laid a certain kind of a marker in 2011, and they felt they were laying down their own law that day. But Jim got us back in after and, almost laughing at it, said ‘we’ll show them f***ers what we’re about come summer’. And we did. We moved on quite quickly. Jim wasn’t one bit annoyed or angry. The League, for Jim, was about surviving. That was it.”
Bradley makes an interesting point about transitioning from League to Championship and how Donegal could and probably should have taken Tyrone’s scalp in Enniskillen last summer. He is adamant that the team was in the midst of moving through the gears that day had fate not conspired against them.
“Let’s be honest, Tyrone shouldn’t have got out of Brewster Park last summer. Donegal had their number that day. I’m completely convinced we’d have gone onto win had Michael stay on the pitch. There was the missed penalty as well. It was there for the taking. And look at what Tyrone went on and did. I look at our squad, and the talent that is in it, they just need a little bit of luck in regards to injuries between now and Armagh in Ulster.
“But they also need to start backing themselves as well. You can’t be scared to make mistakes in modern football. Kerry, Mayo, Tyrone, Dublin even… they are all making mistakes trying to be a little more adventurous. That’s the kind of football that is now going to win the big prizes. Donegal need to follow that lead.”