Bugler tuning up for another session in dressing-room
Banner's music man will leave no stone unturned in effort to help Fitzgerald secure another triumph for Clare, writes Jackie Cahill
Brendan Bugler's heart skipped a beat when Davy Fitzgerald was appointed as Clare's senior hurling manager in October 2011.
Bugler was certain that under Fitzgerald, Clare would be competitive again. But he was worried, too. He didn't know whether his face would fit, wasn't sure if Fitzgerald rated him.
Bugler has been part of the Clare set-up since 2007 and bar reaching a Munster final a year later, success was non-existent.
Take a 2009 relegation play-off victory against Wexford out of the equation and Clare hadn't won a championship match since June 2008.
But Fitzgerald promised Bugler a fair crack of the whip, just like the rest. His face could fit, but only if he worked on two key areas of his game.
Fitzgerald told him that his tackling and footwork had to improve. The criticism was constructive and Bugler took it on board.
Bugler admits: "I don't think I'd have been in his plans for the top 15, but Davy told me what I had to work on.
"He told me that I had to eliminate the free count, giving away stupid frees, so I had to learn to tackle properly. He mentioned my feet as well, my speed wouldn't have been my greatest asset.
"'If you improve those two things, you'll get as fair a shot as anyone else', he said to me the very first time I met him."
The first night at training was a real eye-opener.
Bugler recalls facing off against Colm Galvin in a tackling drill at University of Limerick. He was 26 and Galvin 18, but the younger man's tackling technique was already far superior.
"He was just out of minor and here's me, I'd be a nice bit bigger than Colm, and he was absolutely destroying me in a tackling drill because he had trained to a certain level with the minors and 21s," Bugler says.
Paul Kinnerk, the revered Limerick native and Clare coach, honed Bugler's tackling along with Fitzgerald and Joe O'Connor worked on the feet.
The long hours paid off and as Bugler reflected on a dream 2013 season shortly before Christmas, he did so as a back-to-back All Star and All-Ireland senior medallist. He traced the journey back to Fitzgerald's arrival two years before. A new era was ushered in and Bugler loved everything about it.
Clare had a man in charge with a similar mentality to Bugler's.
"There wasn't any one thing that you could say," Bugler replies, when asked to elaborate on what the previous problems were in Clare.
"It was like an accumulation of things. Number one -- the socialising aspect of it. Once there was a (drink) ban in place, everyone had to adhere to it or else you weren't toeing the line.
"If you weren't toeing the line, you were being very selfish. That was one thing. The way the lads trained was very, very honest and you'd be weeded out fairly handy if you weren't training.
"Just the whole thing ... Davy brings a great package with him. He's an unbelievable delegator as well. He brought in really top-class guys and you knew if you were slacking off, be it the physical side of it, Joe O'Connor would be on to you, or Fitzy himself. Likewise the hurling side of it, with Fitzy and Paul Kinnerk.
"They'd be on to you straight away. You couldn't rest on your laurels. As well as that, there was a heap of younger lads coming and an element of competitiveness brought into the training.
"You knew if you weren't performing, you weren't going to be playing. I knew that myself, while maybe going back a couple of years, you knew that if you weren't performing, you might still play."
Bugler finished with an All Star from the 2012 campaign and just like he'd suspected, Clare WERE competitive again.
They collected a championship win of real consequence to overturn Dublin on a raucous evening at Cusack Park, before bowing out against Limerick.
Then 2013 arrived and once again, Bugler's entire life revolved around hurling and the pursuit of individual and team goals.
It's always been that way. Even when he was filling out his CAO form, he put down teaching as it would accommodate hurling.
He's a single man by choice, for now, and if there's an obstacle to be overcome, Bugler will find a way around it.
He explains: "Teaching can be very helpful -- you have your three months off during the summer and you have nice little holidays in between as well. You finish at 4.0.
"I can be back down for training without being late. The likes of Domhnall O'Donovan and Pat O'Connor, above in Naas and Dublin, they have to get an hour or two off work to be down on time. It can be difficult to juggle, but I think it's important for the GAA player to be working. People might say, 'ah it's nearly professional,' but you need another thing to be focusing your mind on.
"Otherwise you'll get too bogged down in the whole thing. It's good to get into a routine, even with the likes of your diet.
"If you're teaching, it's very accommodating. You have your meals at the set times every day and you know your dietary plan. The driving and everything else, you get used to that. I like driving anyway. Two hours 20 minutes to Ennis and the same back to Kilkenny (where he's living).
"We do a nice bit of training in UL early in the year, half an hour less maybe, an hour and 50 minutes.
"When you're in the car that much, myself and Domhnall used to travel a bit last year. He'd meet me and we'd travel down.
"The day after, you'll have to do that little bit more stretching than the lads at home. You can always work your way around it.
"I've no baggage or other commitments, yet. I have only my job and my hurling. I don't have any kids or I'm not married yet. I'm okay for a few years anyway.
"I'm sure it will change, but right now, I'm happy enough with where I am."
Clare's historic season provides snapshot after snapshot, filed away forever in Bugler's brain.
The biscuits and Miwadi night at Fitzgerald's house after the Munster championship defeat to Cork was a particular favourite, a massive psychological pick-me-up the day after the Gaelic Grounds defeat.
"You wouldn't know where the year was going, but then to make the phone call, to ask us around to his (Fitzgerald's) house, was a brilliant touch. He rang everyone individually and asked them up.
"When we arrived in, the biscuits were there, the Miwadi was there. We chatted for 20 minutes beforehand, watching a bit of telly in the sitting room, having the craic. Next thing we thrashed everything out for about two hours. I remember leaving his house feeling brilliant.
"Don't get me wrong, you're still carrying the hurt, but there was renewed hope about the year. He didn't bring us to the dressing-room where it was cold, he brought us to his house."
From there, a rollercoaster season brought Clare to an All-Ireland final -- and the brink of despair. Cork ahead in stoppage-time before O'Donovan's famous leveller.
"That was the moment of the year for me, without a shadow of a doubt," Bugler beams.
"Because when (Patrick) Horgan had got the point, I was on Horgan.
"I had gone behind him, tried to get the hook in. In fairness, he struck it really well. It was a great point. If we'd lost by a point, I'd be kicking myself that I didn't get a hook in.
"It would be all 'what ifs' and all that. Straight away when Domhnall got the score, I didn't know what I was doing.
"I went straight over to him, pure raw emotion. I was just so, so happy that he got the point. I'll be forever thankful to Domhnall for that."
Three weeks later, on the last Saturday night in September, Bugler rejoiced in Clare's dressing-room with an accordion in his hands.
Second nature to the son of renowned East Clare musician, Seamus Bugler.
"My dad plays traditional music," Brendan smiles. "He's played for years.
"As a young lad, I took up the accordion at five or six. I remember I got it as a Christmas present from Santa.
"Dad taught me himself. From the age of seven or eight until 17, I was going to music sessions with him every single Saturday night of the year nearly. I used to go the odd Thursday night as well.
"He plays above in Feakle every single Thursday night. I'd play the accordion, the piano as well. That's where I got my love of that.
"Dr (Padraig) Quinn had said -- this was going back to the bad times, three or four years ago, he'd always be a bright, colourful character -- that if Clare win the All-Ireland, I'd play the accordion.
"I always thought he meant at the banquet! Genuinely, 110pc, I did not know there would be an accordion inside in the dressing-room.
"The Doc Quinn, after the final whistle, rang somebody, his sister or someone that knew somebody that got an accordion down to Croke Park, an hour after the match.
"We were taking it all in, the whole lot, and the next thing he popped out with the accordion. He loved it.
"Everywhere I go now, it's not the hurling they're talking about, it's the accordion! It was a nice touch.
"We got a load of letters at home. Dad got loads of letters from people in Australia, people in America, traditional musicians with the whole Irish culture and everything else. They thought it was brilliant.
"At the time, you wouldn't have thought it would have such a big effect on people, but looking back now, it was a nice touch alright, nice to be able to do it."
Even nicer, Bugler agrees, if he could do it all over again.