THE prospect of an unprecedented sixth McKenna Cup in succession isn’t one that should be taken lightly, according to Mark Bradley.
That’s the prize on offer on this evening as Tyrone go head-to-head with their neighbours over the Sperrins at Newry, and Bradley believes that the rumours of Derry’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Reports of an exodus of Derry men from the intercounty panel have been rife but they’ve already turned a few heads – or at least prompted a few sideway glances – by setting up a repeat of last year’s final.
On that occasion Tyrone clawed their way to a 1-22 to 1-17 victory after extra time and Bradley admits lady luck had played a part in completing a historic five in-a-row.
He said: “You’re creating a bit of history every time you win it. It’s a competition with a cup at the end of it. We don’t play friendlies so these are our pre-season matches, this is where we test the new talent that comes through and try to get a first team established for our first league game against Roscommon].”
He added: “The word on the street was that Derry have lost all these players and they’re going to fade away, but they’re not going anywhere yet.
“They’re a very established team with experience. Last year we were very lucky to beat them twice in the McKenna Cup. In Owenbeg we were very lucky to get a win. Likewise with the final we should never have beaten them.”
The livewire forward spearheaded Killyclogher’s magnificent Tyrone SFC success last season but it’s by no means a given that he cements a first-team place with an ever-expanding depth of attacking talent at Mickey Harte’s disposal (albeit cruciate-stricken Connor McAliskey is out for the year).
A determined Darren McCurry slotted over six points in their semi-final win over Fermanagh on Sunday while rookies Lee Brennan and Ronan McHugh haven’t looked out of place either.
“Talk about competition, but it’s not a bad problem to have. Poor ‘Skeet’ [McAliskey] would’ve been another phenomenal footballer to have and it’s very unfortunate for him.
“It’s not a bad problem to have – having eight, nine or ten forwards. If someone’s having a bad day someone else can step in and take their spot. It’s 70 minutes, how many last that long now, especially with the way the game is now.”
He added: “A few boys have freshened it up and added a new dimension. They’re nipping at your heels for a place, competition’s crazy, you have to keep up and you have to keep pushing.”
The Ulster University student made his first appearance for Tyrone this year in that 0-14 to 0-11 win over Fermanagh at Clones. While not undermining his starring role with Killyclogher in the tail-end of 2016, he admits that intercounty football is a different kettle of fish.
“It’s going well, it hasn’t been a bad year. There’s loads I can improve on, it’s a step up again when it comes to county senior. Club players now are more professional than ever but the pace of the game at county level is unbelievable. It’s full intensity for 70 minutes.