At 35, Eoin Bradley is still going strong and while he may have hung up his inter-county boots in 2015, the former Derry star has spent the latter years of his career tearing defences apart in the Irish Premiership and shows no signs of stopping.
Once the great white hopes of Derry football, Bradley represented the Oak Leaf County for ten seasons alongside brother, Paddy, but stepped away following a successful stint in the soccer ranks with Coleraine FC and Glenavon FC respectively.
It wasn’t a decision that Bradley took lightly. Coming from a well-known Ulster GAA dynasty, soccer was never at the forefront of his mind growing up.
“I played soccer in the off-season, me and Patrick, we always played in the winter time whenever Derry wasn’t going.” Bradley told Pundit Arena.
“Then it was one of them years, I think, 2013 or something, a friend of mine was over at Ballymoney and he said, ‘look would you come down and play a game with me’.
“So I went down there, played a few games, scored four or five goals in one game and then a couple in another, next thing we were playing Ballymena one night in a cup game and Oran Kearney (Coleraine manager) must have heard about me and he came and said, ‘will you come and play with us’ so I went down and stayed there for six months, then I went to Glenavon, and now I’m back at Coleraine.”
Bradley entered the league with a degree of expectation given his exploits on the GAA pitch, however, not even he could have imagined the success he would go on to amass, winning two Irish Cup medals and qualifying for Europe on six occasions.
Perhaps his most successful stint came at Glenavon where Bradley netted an incredible 35 goals in 78 appearances.
“I went down to Lurgan, Gary (Hamilton) asked me to sign and I went down, it’s no secret we get on very well. I loved it down there but had to leave unfortunately for different circumstances, but we won the Irish Cup and got to Europe twice.
“I’m happy back at Coleraine closer to home and to win to win the Irish Cup again last season and score in the final, it was special.
“This will be my sixth year competing in Europe now, travelling and playing in Norway, Belarus, Iceland, stuff I never got to do with Gaelic, so it’s been a very successful time and hopefully it can continue.”
Throughout his tenure with Derry, Bradley wouldn’t have travelled much further than Kerry for a game in the days when the Oak Leaf County were legitimate All-Ireland contenders, a fry-car from Division 4 where they found themselves in 2019.
Bradley looks back on those days with great fondness getting to play alongside some of the greats of Derry football and while it may have been painful to watch the county’s demise in recent years, Bradley feels they are now on the way back up.
“I suppose I was lucky enough with Derry getting to play alongside boys like Patrick (Bradley) and Enda Muldoon, Fergal Doherty Kevin McCloy. Some great fellas.
“That team we had for five or six years, we were very unlucky to lose a couple of semi-finals, we lost an All-Ireland semi-final, then the year we got to the Ulster Final I done my cruciate a week before and Paddy had done his earlier that year but it was just one of them things. We probably underachieved with the team we had.
“Whenever I was playing with Derry we were fighting with the very best and we won a couple of National Leagues, so it’s sad to see where things went, but at the minute, there’s a very young team there and that’s the way it had to go, they needed to get rid of some of the older heads, myself included.
“Derry had to start fresh and try build something new. Next year will be a bit more of a test because there’s a better quality of team but I’m just glad to see them out of Division 4.”
Derry qualified for the Ulster Final in 2011 and, unfortunately, had to play the game without the Bradley brothers inside. That season Eoin stood up to the plate in his brother’s absence and powered the Oak Leaf to a first provincial decider in 11-years.
However, what should have been a defining year in Bradley’s inter-county career (he scored 1-4 against Fermanagh in the opening round before tearing Armagh apart in the semi-finals) turned into a nightmare when he tore his cruciate just one week prior to the final.
“I was flying that year and I was in good shape, John Brennan was managing. Patrick had done his cruciate at the start of the year and then John came to speak to me and just said ‘Eoin look, your the man here that needs to step up.’
“To be fair I did, against Fermanagh in that first round and then against Armagh are probably two of the best games I ever played for Derry and that day (against Armagh) there was three or four put on me, Brendan Donaghy, Ciaran McKeever and Andy Mallon.
“I think all three played for Ireland that year and they were all moved of me so, I was in good form that day but doing my cruciate the week before the final was tough. Football’s like that though, it can nip ye in the bud at the wrong time. I’d loved to have played in the Ulster Final but it’s just one of those things.”
Given the unfortunate injuries and unlucky losses, you couldn’t blame Bradley if he looked back on his inter-county career with a hint of ‘what if?’
However, the Glenullin club man admits that his one saving grace has been soccer and how his second sporting career has given him success and memories to last a lifetime.
And it’s not finished yet.
“I’m content enough because of what I’ve achieved in soccer. Yes, I would have liked to have won something with Derry, won an Ulster Championship but I’m not one for looking back you just move on.
“Everybody knows, my whole family is steeped in Gaelic football so it was tough to leave but I just thought at that stage of my career, I hadn’t done everything I wanted in Gaelic, but I’d played for 10-12 years at inter-county level. I just wanted to try something different and I enjoyed the soccer, thankfully it’s worked out.”
“I’ve another couple years on the contract. I’m getting on a bit but I still feel fit and fresh, enjoying every Saturday. I’m at a good club in Coleraine run by good people so hopefully, it can continue for a few more years.”