Archive for the ‘Bradley’ Category

I had planned to type up my experiences at that wondrous occasion in Croke Park yesterday, but that will have to wait. For today the sad news that Baker Bradley has called it a day means nothing else matters right now. I thought I’d put a few words down on the great man and save the Donegal report for a few days. I can equate this day to the news about Maradona’s handball, Take That disbanding and finding out the truth about Santa. When I first came over to Belfast in January I needed a father figure; someone to mimic and make me a better person in a foreign land. I didn’t need to look too far. I’ll never forget the first time I attended a Baker press conference. It was before a McKenna Cup game and the media vultures were beginning to circle around Bradley after early defeats to Fermanagh and Antrim. I could see the progress being made but the success-hungry Antrim media were starting to prepare the noose. They smelt blood. Baker simply strolled into the press-room, remained standing, stared into the whites of their eyes, and said:

“Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll float around in space, so you will, for eternity either starving to death, freezing to death, suffocating, have a tiny meteoroid shoot through you, baked to death by radiation, further away from humanity than anyone has ever been, completely alone so it is.”

Andersonstown today after the news of Baker’s resignation.

The stunned hacks just looked at each other, blankly, with their bottom jaw hanging open. They knew as I did – they’d just heard the most profound motivational speech since De Niro’s in Any Given Sunday. I connected immediately with Bradley. He was taking a chance with Antrim, aiming for the moon, and it was a lonely, dangerous business. Sure wasn’t the same for me arriving in Belfast from Durham. From that moment on, I knew I’d be writing any snippet he said down onto my notebook. I plan to sell the collection this Christmas, simply called ‘So It Was’.

That was the steely side to Baker that many would have witnessed on the sidelines. Roaring and spitting fury. But, what others would never see was the humane element to his character. Bradley was possibly the best man-manager in the game, any game. I will give you just a couple of snippets.

When Aodhan Gallagher was off-form in February, Baker waited until the rest of the lads were doing upsidedown squats during a training night and managed to pull Gallagher aside, arm around the shoulder. I sidled up undercover against the wire mesh and caught the whole conversation. Gallagher confided in the boss that his lack of hair was starting to get to him, with pupils calling him Harry Hill, crystal ball, Buddha, bulb-head, baldilocks, Mr Baldwin, Fester, chrome dome, lollypop head and melon. When Baker finally composed himself from laughing, he rubbed his chin and simply said “Bruce Willis”. A smile as wide as the Albert Clock formed over the shiny-headed midfielder and he scored 3-9 in the next game.

This man saved Gallagher’s season

The following week, goalkeeper Chris Kerr was seen crying in the goalmouth after another NFL defeat. The crowd had dispersed at this point and Baker ushered the the rest of his concerned side back into the changing rooms as he strode manfully across the field to his custodian. Kerr, playing with the sand, was in floods of tears. Again, with skilful stealth, Baker put a hand around his man and asked what was up, wiping a tear from his eye with his used handkerchief. The St Gall’s stalwart looked Bradley tearfully in the eye and said “the McCann’s are bullying me. They keep calling me big-foot an all and saying my kick-outs are dung. When I banter back they sing, ‘KERR BEAR, KERR BEAR’ about a hundred times. Even the crowd behind the goals start it too. I’ve had enough.”

Baker, again laughing heartily, composed himself to pass off some words of wisdom. He told Kerr that when the Care Bear’s first came out he was smitten by them. He bought every Care Bear in Derry that winter, depriving every child in the Oak Leaf one for Christmas. He said he still sleeps cuddling a manky old Care Bear and that every night now, as he wraps his arms around the teddy, he’ll think of Chris. An awkward silence descended between them and Kerr never mentioned it again.

 

 

Anyway, I hope those two stories show the measure of a great, great man. Antrim might crash and burn without him. He aimed for the moon and nearly landed on it. In the week that saw Neil Armstrong’s final days, it’s quite ironic.

 

Kerr Bear