LIAM BRADLEY DIDN’T make the drive from Glenullen to Malin with his eyes closed.
The appointment of Bradley, the former Antrim manager, to the Malin hotseat certainly sent shockwaves rippling across Donegal.
Malin had been in a Championship semi-final two years ago, when they lost to Killybegs after ousting then champions St Eunan’s at the quarter-final stage.
That aside, there’d been little for the natives of Connolly Park to crow about at senior level.
Inishowen is known the land over as a soccer hotbed and Bradley’s initial few weeks and months weren’t easy with several of his panel attending to soccer commitments with Glengad United and the Inishowen League representative squad, who won the Oscar Traynor Cup.
The Championship was always the target for ‘Baker’, though and two weeks ago they went to the hallowed sod in Magheragallon and handed Gaoth Dobhair their coats.
“I did my homework before I went into Malin and I knew there was something to work with,” says Bradley ahead of Sunday’s quarter-final meeting with St Michael’s at O’Donnell Park (throw-in 2.30pm).
“We have a good panel of players here. I knew all about Inishowen being a big soccer country. We go to these big clubs and we have that thrown into the guys’ faces: ‘You’re only a crowd of soccer men’ they’ll be told.
“We went down to Gaoth Dobhair and a lot of people in the club were hoping to win. Myself and the players, we expected to win that night. I knew all along that we had talented footballers here.
“That result is probably the best in the history of Malin GAA. That has certainly put us in good stead for this weekend and we’re also coming into it on the back of what was effectively a knockout game.
“But, look, we have to back that result up. It’s only a stepping stone and it’ll mean nothing unless we get a result on Sunday.”
In Gaoth Dobhair, only an inspired display from Odhrán MacNiallais kept the otherwise insipid hosts in with a chance.
A brace of goals by Dan McDaid and a third from Brendan McLaughlin late in the game handed Malin a famous scalp.
Since then, Bradley’s hand has been strengthened with the return of Anthony Kelly and Michael Byrne to his squad.
Bradley has faced the likes of Colm McFadden, Christy Toye and Martin McElhinney during his time as Antrim manager.
“St Michael’s are sitting at the top of Division 1 and have only lost two games, whereas we’re at the bottom and have only won two,” Bradley notes.
“We know the task that’s ahead of us, but it’s nothing for us to be afraid of. We have faith in our ability and we have faith in our talent.
“St Michael’s have a very strong midfield in Christy Toye and Martin McElhinney. For us to win we’ll have to get at least 50 per cent of ball at midfield because those two make St Michael’s tick.”
Declan Walsh has returned to club football in superb form. The Donegal panelist was in magnificent form in Maghergallon.
Bradley says: “We have a lot of talented players, an awful lot I class as being at the one level and are top-notch club players.
“Then you have Declan Walsh who travels up from Dublin to train with us when we wouldn’t even expect it ourselves.
“I was delighted with his performance against Gaoth Dobhair because a lot of the time people in the county are questioning if he should be on the Donegal squad – he’s answered those people now.”
Malin lost their opening eight League games and Bradley admits there was a time when ‘I was questioning us myself’.
“From the middle of June, I could see the improvement coming,” he says.
“We started then to get our first fifteen on the field most weeks and, when we did that, it was clear that we were improving.
“The signs were there that the team was coming together and I think the bad start, in a strange way, might actually benefit us.”
It was at this stage two autumns ago that Malin knocked St Eunan’s packing at The Scarvey, but stage fright struck them down when they took on Killybegs in the subsequent semi-final.
St Michael’s know all too well about the jitters. The Creeslough-Dunfanaghy men have been hopefuls ever since a late flick of Ross Wherity’s hand saw St Eunan’s get over the line against them in a 2006 semi-final.
St Michael’s have become Donegal football’s nearly men and it’s a tag Eddie Harkin wants to shake off the Bridge men.
“That’s why we’ve decided to take in Declan Bonner to see if it’ll give us an extra lift,” Harkin says of the recruitment of Bonner, the former Donegal player and manager, who has joined their set-up as a selector.
“Declan has plenty of big game experience and he’s a good man. We have to try and get over the line. We should have done it before now, but we have a good squad here that’s capable of winning a Championship.”
Martin Breslin is out injured, but Colm McFadden (pictured below) seems set to play despite going off last Sunday in the League game against Dungloe. Harkin has reported that he is ‘very confident’ that the Donegal ace will line out against Malin.
St Michael’s defeated Cloughaneely and Four Masters by ten points, but they stuttered to victory in their last group outing at Glenfin on a day when they left An Gaeltacht Lár with more questions than answers.
“It was very below-par against Glenfin,” says Harkin.
“We had a talk about it afterwards and we said that we needed to lift it. We just have to lift it, it’s as simple as that.
“In a way, though, it’s better to be going in like this than with a false impression of ourselves.
“There is an air of confidence in the camp but we’re definitely not looking past Malin. We don’t underestimate Malin and wee know if we don’t perform on Sunday we won’t get anything.”Tags: