We do it for pride and the glory - Brogan
Published 29/10/2010 | 05:00
Bernard Brogan is grinning and goofing to order.
"Make a silly face!" says a photographer and, as he leaps at the camera like Ed Moses clearing a high hurdle, Brogan gurns an odd hybrid of Clarke Gable and Forrest Gump. The snappers are laughing. They like him.
We are in a store at the bottom of Grafton Street and Brogan is so easy in his skin, he'd do hand-stands if they asked. He's a star without complications, you see. Someone with a smile on speed-dial who doesn't see the point of traipsing through life like it's 24/7 on the wrong end of a root canal.
Just now, he's walking on air, of course. Already named the Vodafone All Star Footballer of the Year, he is a shoo-in to add the Opel GPA equivalent next Friday. A Texaco award is probably imminent too.
Brogan was so clearly the marquee figure in his sport through 2010 that not even Dublin's absence from the marquee game could re-route the year's individual bullion. He scored 3-42 in seven championship games, signing off with 1-7 in that white-knuckle ride against Cork.
Short of swooping down from roof-tops in a cape, he couldn't have done more to stoke the Capital's goosebumps.
And, looking at him, you can't help but wonder about the accidents of geography that bend the narrative of big-time sport. As the crow flies, less than a hundred miles from the Brogans' Castleknock home sits Wayne Rooney's Cheshire pile.
This week, while Wayne recuperated in Dubai from the exertions of negotiating a new £230,000-a-week deal with Manchester United, Bernard was busy furthering his accountancy studies with Farrell Grant Sparks in Dublin.
Both are in their mid-20s and outlandishly gifted, but the worlds they occupy belong to different galaxies.
Next week, young Wayne will probably feature in the Manchester derby, yet could lunch this week on chicken nuggets and chips (two portions), washing it all down with copious quantities of Tiger beer. For Brogan, about to return to the discipline and ritual of Carton House, where amateur Gaelic footballers readied themselves for tomorrow's second International Rules Test against Australia, the Rooney soap-opera had a compelling draw.
"It's unbelievable. Fantasy stuff really," smiles Brogan. "God, I'd love to get up every day, not having to go into work. To just be able to focus on doing what you love. That would be unbelievable. But £230,000 a week? How do you get your head around that?
"Soccer is where the money is and those lads are fortunate enough to be born into that game. But you could pick 100 inter-county Gaelic footballers and say, if they were born in England, a high percentage of them would probably be playing soccer at the top level and getting paid big money now.
"It's just the way life lands. We see ourselves as being just as professional as them, training just as hard, if not harder. We look on ourselves as professionals even though we don't get paid. We have trainers, weights coaches, dieticians. We get hydration tests. Everything is monitored.
"But we do it for just the pride and glory of going out and representing our family and our club and, this week, our country. The GAA is unique in that way and it's brilliant to have it like that."
His year did not pass entirely without wrinkles, mind. Dublin's single-point loss to Cork in August pitched many of their players into such a tailspin of sorrow, many carried their grief like rucksacks loaded with stones into the subsequent club championship.
And for Brogan and his beloved St Oliver Plunkett, the ramifications ran deep. They lost a Dublin semi-final unexpectedly to St Brigid's, their star-studded forward line restricted to a paltry 0-5 across the hour. Bernard recalls an almost insidious weakening of his spirit.
"I didn't notice it at first," he reflects. "It just came upon me after the Cork game. I hadn't picked up a knock or anything. But I suspect the Cork game was so emotionally draining, the body just shut down.
"We had a club championship match against Sylvesters that Thursday and I picked up a knock in the warm-up. Tweaked my groin. Hadn't done anything to myself all year and, suddenly, I was injuring myself in a 10-minute warm-up.
"I don't know was it the head closing down after such a high. Because that week was such a low for everyone in the Dublin camp. We felt we had left it behind us.
"The following week, I picked up another knock in training. Then twisted my ankle in the Ballymun game. The body just seemed to be gone, the legs getting a bit heavy and I wasn't able to train with the club.
"It's very hard to turn it back on. At Plunketts, we've six or seven county lads and, on paper, you'd say we've one of the best teams out there. But it's very hard to keep it going all year long. We had a lot of sore bodies going into the game and St Brigid's just out-worked us."
No matter, the year was full -- predominantly -- of good things. Under Pat Gilroy, Dublin located a beating pulse again and, in the process, "a different type of belief".
As Brogan puts it: "This time last year, we didn't know where we stood. We didn't know how to fix it. But we got a lot of monkeys off our backs this year. We beat Tyrone, ran Cork to a point. We beat Kerry in the league. We feel we're not that far off."
For this year though, the only outstanding business is tomorrow's second Test.
The media seems to swing between ambivalence and sanctimony in its coverage, yet the players remain utterly committed to this series. The Aussies carry a seven-point advantage into Croke Park tomorrow, yet Brogan predicts a contest with more heat than was apparent last week in Limerick.
"It's going to be a different scenario," he stresses. "Maybe we went into the first game a bit naïve, expecting a more physical battle. In fairness to them, they're here to play football. They're not here to fight. But I think this Saturday is going to be a different story.
"I think there's going to be some huge hits, especially coming in from the Irish lads. We're out there playing for our country and we have to show people that we're proud to be out there representing them.
"So we have to step up and be counted. We're really going to get stuck in."
Beforehand, as ever, he'll be lost in the thunder of his ear-phones. Plugged into dance music, "getting the blood pumping" as he puts it. Probably Robin S and 'Show Me Love'. Swaying with the easy looseness.
Living the dream.