'What a script... and what a career' - Alan Brogan a true Dublin 'great'
Published 16/12/2015 | 02:30
How do you begin to chart the journey, the voyage from a wing-back with a famous name on the Dublin minors to the heartbeat of a marauding team?
How do you quantify what Alan Brogan has given? And what he has gone through to get here? It's easy now to reflect on a career that yielded three All-Ireland medals but it wasn't always that way.
Even now as he departs the scene at 33, there are likely more dark hours parked in parts of his mind he dare not go than days in the sun.
He's one of the few in the current Dublin set-up who remember the days when Dublin would peacock their way through Leinster and then be battered by a Kerry or Tyrone side or whoever else came their way. The August Bank holiday weekend became a near-annual skinning for the Dubs.
It's scarcely believable now but there were times too in Brogan's career when the climb in Leinster was too much. In his first three years with Dublin, Brogan lost twice in the province to Laois and Westmeath.
They weren't a popular team in the middle of the last decade. The chest-out walk towards the Hill, arms on shoulder, grated. It was meant to be symbolic but it was the sort of show that didn't sit well with almost everyone outside Dublin and a few inside it as well.
When they lost, there was a quiet mirth. Then, as now, Dublin were the show-time team - but for very different reasons.
These days people pay to watch Dublin's thoroughbreds slash and burn their way through championships. Back then, the interest in Dublin was more in line with the morbid fascination a car crash holds.
We'd watch how high expectations would lift around them and then smile knowingly as they fell.
In the middle of it all was Alan Brogan. The poster boy of the team that flattered to deceive. When it came to it, they could never swim with the big fish and it got to the stage where Brogan admitted publicly that he'd be at peace if he never got his hands on an All-Ireland medal.
Maybe he wasn't being completely honest, but it's an indicator of how Dublin were perceived. "He would always highlight that for most of his time he never won anything ... he always made the point that it is not always going to be rosy in the garden," Dublin team-mate Jonny Cooper said yesterday.
"Yes, we have a bit of success now and in the last couple of years. But the years previous to that and for a lot of Alan's time we did not have as much success so he shared his thoughts on that with the group.
"All we really know is of our time under Jim (Gavin), so we don't know of the darker days playing for Dublin like Alan. So sharing that with us was a great help for the younger guys to appreciate what we have a bit more."
Brogan's first final appearance came in 2011, nine years after his debut in Carlow against Wexford in 2002. Dublin won the most memorable final of recent times and Alan was named Footballer of the Year, 12 months after his brother Bernard had won it. Getting his hands on a medal was a weight off his shoulders but he wanted more. Injury dogged him in 2013 but he made the All-Ireland final match-day squad for a second Celtic cross.
Back in Septebmer, he played six minutes in the All-Ireland final and he left his mark. It was hardly the last sting of a dying wasp, prompting speculation he could return yet again.
Kerry squandered a chance at one end and Brogan raced onto possession inside his own 20-metre line. He swapped passes with brother Bernard and took possession back on his own '65. Advancing towards the Hill end, he surveyed his options and then took on the responsibility to split the posts himself to put Dublin four points up.
It was his last significant act as a Dublin footballer and, fittingly, one that brought him level with his father Bernard Snr on three All-Ireland medals.
The debate will start now on where he stands among the great Dublin forwards. He has strong claims, given his haul of three All-Irelands, three All-Stars and a Footballer of the Year as well as a couple of successful, albeit injury-hit, league campaigns.
In all, there were 70 championship appearances that yielded 11-134.
However history judges him, Brogan departs the stage with universal respect. Perhaps more importantly, he leaves on his own terms and with medals in his pocket, something that looked unlikely for long parts of his career.
Paying tribute to his all-round impact, Cooper yesterday recalled his team-mate's outstanding natural ability.
"I remember marking Alan in my very first day in under 'Pillar' (Caffrey) and I marked him in one of his last training sessions under Jim Gavin, and both situations were fairly similar. He was such a wily fox in terms of his movement, maybe some people did not think he had pace but he made up for it with other great skills and what he had in his brain," Cooper continued.
"It was fitting that it was he who kicked the insurance point in the final against Kerry. It is a sad for Dublin football, but after 13 or 14 years he can tick off every honour that was on offer.
"It is good for him, good for his family and I'm sure now every Tuesday and Thursday he can do what he wants. But I've no doubt he will be (in Croke Park) in the summer supporting Dublin. But my first thought is that it's sad for Dublin.
"He was Dublin's main man for 14 years in terms of starting on the team and in terms of doing a job as Jim asked him to do against Kerry in coming off the bench. He came from this end down in the Canal and went all the way up and put it over with his left foot under the Hogan Stand. What a script, what a career and what a man.
"He will go down as one of the legends and greats of Dublin GAA."
Newly-appointed Kildare manager Cian O'Neill had a ringside seat for Brogan's last dance. As part of the Kerry backroom team, he watched as Brogan sunk his side's hopes in this year's final.
"He's been a fantastic servant to the game - similar but very different to Bernard, which I was always fascinated by when they were playing.
"There was almost that level of telepathy between the two of them, particularly when he was at 11.
"He always knew where Bernard was going to be, or that run to space where Bernard wanted to be.
"I attribute a lot of the success Dublin have had to that relationship.
"He was a very clever, very smart player. I really admired him over the years. It's disappointing for the game, but it's good for everyone in Leinster and in the All-Ireland series, for sure."
Compliments don't come much more honest than that. Perhaps that's the ideal way to reach a journey's end.