Brendan Bradley – The Goalscorer Supreme
Brendan Bradley, the top scorer ever in the League of Ireland, the man who has scored the most goals for Finn Harps not only in a season but in total, confesses “Never in a hundred years, when I was starting out did I dream that I would end up setting the record. I knew I was scoring a lot of goals season after season, but it was one of the other players who bought a newspaper on the way to the game V Limerick in 1982 who saw an article that told me I was one away from two hundred goals.” Brendan continues on “To be honest with you I would rarely think about it these days, only when somebody else mentions it to me in a conversation”.
Brendan was playing in Derry City’s reserve team when Harps were admitted to the League and recalls “When Harps got beaten 10 goals to two in their first match, I remember reading about it and thinking that is some baptism into the League. I also remember thinking that they had a lot to do to get up to standard. A couple of weeks later Patsy McGowan approached me to sign for Harps and Jimmy Hill the then Derry manager agreed to let me go.” He continues on “At the time Patsy told me they were going to bring in other players as well and I wasn’t getting on too well at Derry. Danny Hale was the centre forward and I was getting much opportunity to play in the first team. I thought I have nothing to lose and decided to give it a try. It was near at hand, just down the road and I really enjoyed it.”
Brendan stayed with Harps until the beginning of the 1972/73 season, winning the Dublin City Cup in 1972, before signing for Lincoln City, then in the Fourth Division of the English League. “It was great to score the winning goal in the Cup match, and while it was nice to win it, there was a feeling that it was a lesser cup competition. Still it was Harps first trophy as a senior club and the celebrations lasted quite a while.” Brendan goes on “The Lincoln thing came about through Jimmy McGeogh. Jimmy played with David Herd at Waterford and when Herd went back to Lincoln they were looking for a striker and my name came up. Although it was Fourth Division football it gave me a chance to pay across the water. However, after a few months I found that I didn’t really enjoy it and all I wanted to do was get back home – I was homesick- and play for Harps. At the time I was happy to return to Harps.”
Brendan adds that his biggest regret in his career “Not staying in England longer. As the years go on, I think God I should have stayed. If I had stayed I think some bigger club may have come in for me. Apparently at the time there was interest from some other clubs, but nobody told me about them. But I was happy to return to Harps. I am a homebird and although Aileen was born in Lincoln I was glad to get back to Derry.”
Coming back to Harps led Brendan to two great moments in his career, the first was in the match that marked his return to Finn Park, when he scored the goal he considers the best he scored. He takes up the story “It was against Shelbourne in Finn Park. Paddy Roche, who later went to Man. United, was in Shelbourne’s goal that day. Terry Harkin played a through ball which I ran on to, the defender Ray O’Brien came to challenge me and I flicked the ball over his head, Roche came out and I did the same to him and then volleyed the ball to the net. I don’t remember all my goals” he modestly adds “but you certainly remember when you score a goal as good as that.” [Goal pictured above in main photograph]
The second occasion was the 1974 FAI Cup Final against St Patrick’s Athletic, which he classes as the favourite memory of his career. “The FAI Cup win was great it was a major trophy and sealed any doubts that Harps would survive as a Senior Club, proving all the doubters wrong.” Brendan classes Tony O’Doherty as the best player he played with and pays tribute to his contribution in the Cup win “He was a very good player and could play in either the back four or the midfield, he was in nowadays terminology a natural utility player. It was the decision to move him into midfield that ultimately won us the FAI Cup in 1974. That move was the turning point and turned the game in our favour.”
Brendan had another good day a couple of seasons later when he notched all six against Sligo Rovers, as he went on to set a scoring record of 29 League goals in 26 League games during the 1975/76 season. “Of course it was, it is not too often that you manage to score six. For most strikers it would never happen in their career, so for it to even happen once in my career makes it a very special day. It was one of those days when everything hit the back of the net. The team were playing well and we totally outplayed Sligo.”
Brendan points to Jim O’Hea at Athletic F.C. as the man who would have been a major influence in his career. “He told me what football was about, I had the ability but he helped me to get sharp and how to look after myself.” When queried as to what in his own make-up made him the goalscorer he honestly replies “I often think of that myself. At school I was a centre-half, Jim O”Hea played me middle of the park, at Derry City when I was 16, I was wide on the right and Patsy spotted me as a centre-forward. Whatever I had was in me. I had good positional sense, I was able to read the game well and although I didn’t look fast moving I was sharp and if the ball broke to me in the box, I would generally be first to it.”
Brendan moved on from Finn Park in the 1978/79 season, signing for Athlone Town and as he relates “It didn’t work out too well, I was working away from Derry at the time and had very early starts, but I only lasted one season. The following season Patsy (McGowan) had taken over at Sligo and asked me to go there and we had a good squad of fella’s from the Northwest including the likes of Donal O’Doherty, Declan McIntyre, Paddy Sheridan and Jimmy McGroarty. I stayed there for three seasons scoring 44 goals and playing in the 1981 Cup Final when we lost 2-0 to Dundalk.”
Brendan came back to Harps with Patsy in 1982 “initially we had some good times, but when the first division came into effect in 1985 I was 38 and found my interest on the wane.” It was at this stage that Brendan joined up with Noel King and Derry City. “It was my hometown club, so of course I wanted to play for them. There was great novelty about Derry in that first season; there were big crowds, a great buzz about the place, something similar to Harps when they got into the League. However, I found there was more pressure to succeed than at Harps. Noel King and the crowd wanted results and there was big pressure on to score goals. Still we I did manage to help City win the Shield that season before deciding to hang up my boots.”
Many people are surprised that Brendan didn’t win more honours in his time in football, but his haul does include 1974 FAI Cup, 1972 Dublin City Cup, Shield 1986, FAI Cup Runner Up 1981, League Runner Up 3 times with Harps. He was also capped three times for the League of Ireland, V Torino, English League and the Italian League.
Brendan is still a painter and decorator (as he was in his playing days) and lives with wife Marie, daughter Aileen and son also Brendan in his home town to this day. At the end of our discussion he thanked me for remembering him as he says “the crowd at Finn Park is younger these days and a lot of people will never have seen me play. I seem to remember the crowd following us were a lot older.”
Brendan, with your goalscoring feats it will be a sad day when you are forgotten at Finn Park.Interview with Bartley Ramsay. First published in October 2003
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