Thursday, April 25, 2024

Conor Bradley staying grounded with Northern Ireland amid Liverpool breakthrough

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 20 Mar 2024

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Conor Bradley’s head could have been left spinning from a whirlwind few months but the Liverpool and Northern Ireland youngster’s feet remain firmly on the ground.

This time last year the 20-year-old was starring on loan at League One Bolton, but since breaking into Jurgen Klopp’s side before Christmas he has turned in a string of eye-catching displays for the club he grew up supporting.

He scored his first Liverpool goal in a man-of-the-match display in a 4-1 win over Chelsea in January and lifted the Carabao Cup a month later.

“I definitely didn’t think it would go this well,” Bradley said ahead of Northern Ireland’s friendly against Romania on Friday. “You dream about scoring your first goal for Liverpool but never think it will come true.

“My pinch-myself moment was probably against Chelsea when I scored and got two assists. The fans chanting my name was pretty special. I don’t think I will have a better night than that to be honest.”

Northern Ireland fans have known about Bradley’s talent since he made his debut in May 2021, and he would have more than his 13 caps but for the injury that ruled him out of their final six Euro 2024 qualifiers last year.

But his exploits with Liverpool have seen his name go global.

“I haven’t really felt it to be honest,” said Bradley. “I just try to keep doing the same things I was doing before.

“I am still the same person I was before. None of it has changed me so I just want to keep working hard and doing what I am doing.”

Michael O’Neill has praised the attitude of Bradley, who took a short break from the game in February after the death of his father Joe.

If there had been any danger of things going to his head, Bradley’s Northern Ireland team-mates would be happy to keep him in his place.

“All the lads still treat me the same, they still slag me off!” he said. “The boys have been brilliant with me since I’ve come back in.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been away with Northern Ireland, Denmark in June. I’ve missed quite a bit so I’m buzzing to be back.”

Bradley’s path from his childhood in Castlederg to Liverpool began in Gaelic football, which he kept playing until he was 16.

The Gaelic game is much rougher, but it toughened up the slender Bradley.

“There’s quite a big difference and I was getting too many yellow cards at Bolton last season with the challenges I was putting in,” he said.

“That was me getting used to League One and finding out what I could and couldn’t get away with compared to the Gaelic. It was really good for me and I loved playing it.”

O’Neill will use friendlies against Romania and Scotland to keep developing a young side with senior players including Jonny Evans, Stuart Dallas and Corry Evans still absent, and the retired Steven Davis now on the coaching staff.

With Liverpool locked in a tight title race and chasing Europa League glory, Bradley – the face of Northern Ireland’s next generation – has much to look forward to.

“The next few weeks are going to be big,” he said. “I don’t need to recharge because I want to go into these games and get two wins for Northern Ireland. I want to keep this momentum going that we’ve got with the win against Denmark (in November).

“I’m really looking forward to it, then after these two games we’ve got the (season) run-in.

“Hopefully we can do as well as we can and hopefully I’ll have a medal at the end of the season.”

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