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Career Ending Injury Leads Derry Couple Into Inter-County Management

Kerri and Niall Bradley at the 2023 Ulster Minor Camogie Championship final between Derry and Antrim. Photo credit: Cathal McOscar
By PJ Browne Updated
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Kerri Bradley says her husband Niall was contemplating retirement from Gaelic football around the time he suffered a devastating leg injury while playing for Greenlough seniors in the opening round of the Derry league two years ago.

"But his retirement probably would have been playing for the reserves," she says with a smile, suggesting the hunch has solid foundations.

Moments into the game against Kilrea, Niall rose to catch a kickout and landed with a crack and pop. It was the last play of his career.

After a doctor failed to find a pulse in Niall's foot, he was airlifted to the Royal Hospital in Belfast. It was a severe injury. Had the air ambulance not arrived, there was a chance his leg could have been amputated. Two years on and Niall is still undergoing rehabilitation.

For physical rehabilitation, there's physiotherapy. For the mental rehabilitation required after having your playing career ended so abruptly, there's coaching.

"That's the reason we went into management," says Kerri.

"I was still playing camogie at that stage. We were coaching underage at that time. We stepped away because Niall couldn't play any more.


"Then we took up coaching for the club. We've coached minors and U16 for the club now for a couple of years."

Late last year, after enjoying some success with Greenlough underage sides, the Bradleys made the move into inter-county management with the Derry minor camogie team. They also have Claire O'Kane on board as a goalkeeping coach.

"Mentally, it was a huge help for Niall," says Kerri.


"It's a hugely positive step. I definitely encouraged it. If you play Gaelic games for years upon years, and it's your life... that's what our lives are: Gaelic sports.

"He was still playing senior football. They'd just won the intermediate championship the year before. He would never have come off that field. He would probably be playing until about 50.

"He would never be an emotional person, but I remember at the time, him being told 'You'll never be able to play sports again'. It really triggered him. Being given that opportunity to coach has been really, really helpful for him to get over that.


"It's helped the club too because they've gained a really, really good manager in Niall. He helps manage the senior footballers as well."

The Derry minor camogie panel. Picture credit: Cathal McOscar

Their first Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor B Camogie Championship campaign has been a frustrating one. Kerri says she's "still not over" their opening game against Carlow when they led by "six or seven" points at the break but lost by one. Earlier this month, they had a similar experience against Westmeath when they lost by three. In their other two games, they lost to table toppers Roscommon and beat Kildare.

Ahead of this weekend's final round against second-placed Laois, they sit fifth in a table of six. As four teams qualify for the All-Ireland semi-finals, they are still in with a chance of progressing.

Both Bradleys played at inter-county level with Derry, Kerri in camogie and Niall in football. Kerri, who works in HR, always felt she would have the personality needed for management.


"I'm more the organised, bossy person!" says Kerri.


"Niall would rather do coaching, mentoring, getting stuck in with all of that. I'd get involved with that as well. He'd take certain drills, and I'd take other drills with my playing experience. For every drill, players have their hurley in hand.

"I'm dealing with the messages to the parents, dealing with the fixtures, and the structure around it all. Niall would do a lot on the mental resilience side of things. He'd be very keen in terms of nutrition. A lot of the teamtalks, he would do as well. We balance each other's strengths and weaknesses."

4 January 2009; Paul Ward, Fermanagh, in action against Niall Bradley, Derry. Gaelic Life Dr. McKenna Cup, Section A, Round 1, Fermanagh v Derry, Brewster Park, Enniskillen, Fermanagh. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Between the various teams with which he's involved, Kerri estimates Niall spends 20 hours a week coaching. For her, it's three or four nights a week plus matches on Sundays.

Managing at club level gave them a good understanding of the logistical load involved. What they've found "tricky" is handling players individually, and how they respond to decisions taken by management.

"Regardless of positions, we play people the way where we think their strengths lie," says Kerri.

"It's trying to make sure that they understand, 'You're still great. We still want you here, but you're not within our starting 15'.

"You come up to county, you're an individual, you're top class for your club, but it's really about gelling and not being that individual player anymore. It's about being that team player."

For their opening game of the championship against Carlow in March, Derry had to play the game at the Greenlough grounds as no other venue in the county was available.

"In order to actually get that game at home, we played in our club pitch and actually ruined our field. It's still closed," says Kerri.

"It was probably bordering on unplayable, but the Carlow managers were so lovely, they were honestly really dead on and they went ahead with the game. They could have just said, 'Look, we're not playing on that pitch'. We played on that pitch."

Taking on a county team has opened eyes when it comes to the disparity which still exists between the resources and facilities available to women's teams compared to their male counterparts.

At a recent game, players were told they would have to warm up on the sideline while ahead of another, they were informed that dressing rooms were not available.

"I do feel sorry for the girls when it comes to things like that," says Kerri.

"I do hope that if the merger [between the GAA, Camogie Association and LGFA] happens that it will be the case that the girls do get a wee bit better treatment."

That proposed merger promises some light for a county with a camogie scene ready to bloom. The team which started against Westmeath earlier this month featured players from eight different clubs.

"It is great to see that widespread," says Kerri.

"Our main aim is always to develop the players, but as managers, we want to win - there's an expectation to win.

"My main aim at the moment is to get them through these group stages and get them into the semi-final, regroup and then go from there. I think they're more than capable of winning the All-Ireland - 100 per cent.

"There's actually quite a number of people on the team that are actually in their first year of minor. We certainly take that into consideration as well - the fact that there is going to be a good team there for Derry minors next year.

"Camogie in Derry, the skill level is really, really high. The talent is a step up from whenever we were playing at a minor age. You'll definitely see a lot more from the county in years to come, especially with that calibre of girls coming through.

See Also: Three Years Have Turned Galway Man From Sceptic To Camogie Disciple

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