Shane Bradley pictured in 2004 when Finn Harps won the First Division title
When it comes to showing passion for your local club, former Finn Harps player Shane Bradley certainly fits the bill.
The Stranorlar man grew up just a short distance from Finn Park, the home of the Donegal club where he was to make close to 300 appearances.
And he recalls that at the age of eight he was selling programmes outside the ground, so to go on and not just play but to also captain his boyhood club was both an honour and source of great pride.
Looking back on the highlights of his days with Harps, a number of moments stand out, including that first senior game in 1998. “Putting on the jersey for the team I had supported all my life was great,” he says.
Bradley - whose nickname was 'Rita' - was a centre-half in most people’s books, but really could play anywhere - he even played in goals when called upon with intermediate side Fanad United - and at Harps he was often drafted into various positions, depending on the circumstances.
Fans were well used to him pushing forward late on if the Donegal club was behind - and his strong physical presence, especially in the air, resulted in a decent goals’ tally.
“I didn’t do too bad,” he says, adding: “The League of Ireland took two goals off me, you might see that I got 39, but it was 41.”
It may well be that the odd late goal was misinterpreted by some reporter at a match in which Harps were away from home.
“Quite a lot of them (the goals) were when I came off the bench,” he remarks.
Bradley’s high point was being part of the side that won the First Division in 2004, clinching promotion amid joyous scenes.
It was a season that saw Noel King in charge for the first six games, with Sean McGowan being caretaker manager for two matches, and then Felix Healy, the former Derry City player and manager, taking over in the Finn Park hot-seat.
It was also the club’s golden jubilee year so winning the title and promotion to the Premier Division was particularly sweet.
A glance at the Finn Harps’ honours reveals that silverware down Navenny way was a rare commodity.
It was the club’s second biggest success, bettered only by the Brendan Bradley fuelled FAI Cup win of 1974.
However, many within the club really feel that Harps should have lifted the FAI Cup back in 1999.
“It’s something I’m still sore about,” Bradley admits.
Bradley did not play in the first game against Bray Wanderers which finished scoreless. “I came off the bench in the second and third games,” he notes.
The first replay - in which Bray twice came from behind - ended 2-2 after extra-time while in the second replay Harps took the lead through Jonathan Speak before Jason Byrne struck twice as the cup headed to Wicklow.
“It’s crazy we did not win it,” he says. Needless to say, he was thrown on as an attacking option in the closing stages.
Ranking up there among his most treasured memories was one of Harps’ other, more minor, cup successes. Back in 2002, Finn Harps won the First Division Cup, beating Kildare County 2-0 in both legs, with Bradley captaining the side - and lifting the trophy.
Bradley, like most Harps players, was more often than not on the wrong side of the scoreline against arch-rivals Derry City.
But he did score at the Brandwell, in 1999 in the semi-final of the Irish News Cup.
City fielded a strong side but Harps continued with a policy of using largely reserve team players.
That said, their reserves were decent, and went on to win the Ulster Senior League with a crop of youngsters who were very much on the way up.
Among them were Bradley and Kevin McHugh, who went on to become the fifth highest goalscorer ever in the League of Ireland.
Harps upset the odds that day, and won 2-0.
I scored with a right foot volley and Kevin with a header,” he recalls, “you think it would have been the other way around.”
He didn’t play in the final, which saw Harps beating Ballymena United.
A popular player with his peers, he lists the good friends that he made in the game as among this highlights of his career as well.
On the downside, he had the disappointment of figuring in a number of promotion/relegation play-offs in which Harps lost out, notably against Longford Town in 2002 when the Donegal club lost 6-5 on penalties, and against Derry City at the Brandywell in 2003.
The latter game saw Liam Coyle score his last ever goal for Derry City in an incident-filled tie that saw
Finn Harps' manager Noel King as well as Harps players Bradley and McHugh sent-off.
Bradley has the distinction of making his League of Ireland league debut and also playing his final senior game, in 2006, against the same club - Dundalk.
But after a couple of years out of the game, he came out of retirement to hook up with Letterkenny Rovers, and helped them to win an Ulster Senior League title.
Knee issues led to the curtailment of games, but there was one last period of rejuvenation, in 2016.
Letterkenny were short of a centre-half and Bradley was lured back into action once more.
His 40th birthday coincided with what was his last game of competitive soccer - and while the result wasn’t what he would have liked, he finally bowed out of the game on a grand stage by playing for Letterkenny in the FAI Intermediate Cup Final at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
They lost 5-0 - but it wasn’t a bad venue to sign off on after such a long playing career.
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