Alan Brogan: Bernard's 'kick in the balls' could pay dividends for Dublin later this year
THE first time Bernard and I played a competitive game of football together was for our primary school, Scoil Thomáis in some kind of school’s final.
I was in sixth class and playing in midfield, getting on the ball, making things happen. Bernard played corner-back.
He was in fourth class and at four foot tall, was roughly a foot shorter than the next smallest boy on the pitch.
We lost to a school from Darndale and at that stage, Bernard wasn’t exactly showing signs that he was going to become one of the most prolific forwards in football.
Funny enough, he probably wasn’t as into football when he was a kid as me.
He played lots of it but where I would have enthusiastically gone to all manner of club championship games with my uncle Jimmy and my cousin James, Bernard didn’t have that same interest.
We’d travel down to Leinster club games in Portlaoise or Navan when Erin’s Isle or whoever were Dublin county champions and watch them play in the provincial club competition.
Basically, we’d go anywhere to see a decent game of football but Bernard was never that pushed.
Certainly not to the same degree as I was in terms of following football or even supporting Dublin.
He obviously enjoyed playing. But he didn’t have the same grá for consuming the sport in other ways that I did.
He’s probably still a bit like that, to be honest.
He doesn’t watch as much football as I would, either by going to matches or on television.
But then, maybe that’s a good thing.
When Bernard was a teenager and even into his early 20s, he started to show signs of being a really good finisher and worked his way into the Dublin panel but it was the Dublin club final replay we lost to Kilmacud Crokes in 2008 when I first really saw him doing it under pressure in a big, important match.
Bernard scored ten points – seven from play - off no less a man-marker than Paul Griffin that night in Parnell Park.
People forget about Paul Griffin now because he missed out on 2011 with injury but back then, he was at his peak and at his best, he was one of the stickiest corner backs in the country.
We didn’t win that year but Bernard’s performance was worthy of winning any county championship.
He hit a level that night I hadn’t seen before and to his credit, he’s kept it up for the best part of a decade.
Anyway, the reason for all this family reminiscence.
I was interested to read Bernard’s comments last week about dropping weight and targeting getting back into the Dublin starting team this summer.
It’s rare you see such honesty in an interview with an inter-county player these days and it reminded me of Kevin McManamon’s public declaration about forcing his way into Jim Gavin’s attack by the All-Ireland final last year.
One of the big things for all sports people now is goal-setting.
And when you state that goal publicly, you’re effectively committing to it in an irreversible way.
Is it possible at 33 years of age for a fella with that many miles on the clock to get a game ahead of a talented and prolific bunch selection of young inside forwards?
I can tell by looking at Bernard that he’s in the best shape he’s been in for years.
And I can tell from talking to him that there’s a harder edge to Bernard that I haven’t seen in a long time.
I can see a new bit of fight in him.
I read the stuff about Jim Gavin telling him he was dropped, and about how he wanted to look everyone in the eye and let them know the team came first for him.
That was the approach I took in 2015, the season I wasn’t starting when, being honest, I felt I should have.
Not that he would have appreciated it at the time, but Jim dropping Bernard for last year’s All-Ireland final replay could pay dividends for Dublin later this summer.
At the time, it’s a shock. It’s a kick in the balls.
But it means you fight that bit harder. You prove your point again.
He didn’t carry it around with him after being dropped for last year’s All-Ireland final replay but all top sports people have egos.
If you don’t, you won’t make it at that level.
You can call it ego or you can call it confidence but all elite athletes have it and when they’re not picked, they doubt themselves and they hurt.
And while he would never put the team in jeopardy, of course he was disappointed he didn’t start that match.
Dropping weight to increase his speed seems like a natural enough course of action and I know he’s been very pro-active about achieving that.
The two things any player needs for that position are patience and self-belief.
And of all the players I’ve played with, I’ve never seen anyone as patient as Bernard.
When I played in the full-forward line and the ball wasn’t coming in, I’d go for a wander and start trying to make things happen.
Bernard’s a typical poacher. He’ll sit tight and wait for his opportunity.
His goal against Mayo in the 2015 semi-final replay was a classic of that particular genre.
Late on, I put Brian Fenton through on goal. He skewed a shot but Bernard was there to poke it in.
People can say it was just lucky that he was there but that’s what he’s done all through his career – wait in that space for that opportunity for the ball to break and then it’s in the back of the net.
He’s suffered a bit through the tactical changes in the inter-county game of late.
The last few years have been quite tough for him because teams play with so many men back. To counter that, Dublin have opted to run the ball much more than they used to. They don’t kick long with nearly the same frequency.
People might say he’s not playing well but he’s a victim of how teams set up against Dublin and in some ways, of how Dublin move the ball.
He’s not going to come out and try and get involved. He’s going to stay close to goal, which is why I can see him prolonging his career a bit further than a lot of people seem to expect.
It was interesting looking at Donegal and Tyrone at the weekend and the number of scores they produced.
You’d imagine that if space is opening up in a match between those two, it will be even easier found elsewhere.
I’m sure Westmeath will seek to constrict on Sunday in Croke Park but if - as we all expect - Dublin get over that, Kildare will have to concede at least some room if they want to play the same vibrant game they did against Meath last weekend.
And though he’s in the last season or two of his Dublin career, it’s more Bernard’s style go out with a bang than to quietly excuse himself.