Sunday 22 April 2018

'I always dreamt that I'd walk down the street with my kid, and have people stop us and say, 'We had some great days with Dublin''

Bernard Brogan on his dreams of being a dad

Dublin footballer Bernard Brogan. Photo: Fergal Philips.
Dublin footballer Bernard Brogan. Photo: Fergal Philips.
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

April 1, 2011. The cosmos of Bernard Brogan's life was forever altered that day. It was the day his beloved granddad Jim passed away peacefully in St Mary's Hospital, Phoenix Park, Dublin. "It was the last time I cried," says the king of the hill (the hill being the Hill 16 terrace of Croke Park), superstar of the Dublin Gaelic football team and a part of the Brogan sporting dynasty. He appears to drift off into a distant reverie somewhere at the back of his mind. Bernard says that just after his grandfather's death "there was a really special moment. . ."

On the weekend following Jim's passing in 2011, Bernard recalls that Dublin had a game against Louth. "And myself and my two brothers," Bernard says, referring to older sibling Alan and younger sibling Paul, "were playing that day. And we were down by two points. . .

"Paul tackled a person at the back and came out of the defence and kicked the ball to me. He kept on running."

The telling of the heroic tale is made yet more epic by Bernard's dramatic commentator style that borders on Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh on a roll.

"And I kicked the ball across the goal and the keeper got it and then the ball dropped. And Alan kicked it in - and we won by a point."

Bernard pauses for a second to reflect on the memory. Then he continues, just as emotively and passionately as he left off.

"I always say that my granddad had a hand in pushing the ball out of the goalkeeper's hands, so his three grandchildren had a role in the winning goal that day.

"Jim was a special man - a very, very interesting man," adds Bernard of Jim Brogan, who, with Bridget Gilvarry, moved from their native Mayo to Dublin in the 1950s and settled on the Navan Road and had eight sons: Jim, Ollie, Kevin, Francis, Benny, Stephen, Aidan and Bernard (the latter being Bernard junior's famous father). "Jim was a guard and a superintendent in Cabra for a long time."

In his off-duty hours, he was also a driving force in his local club, St Oliver Plunketts.

"We used to play GAA down there, in Plunketts. He was a great family man, and mad into sport. He would travel around the country, following his sons, and then his grandchildren. He was a very proud man. He got to see myself and Alan play a good bit," Bernard says, his eyes seeming to glow with emotion.

You can only imagine that Bernard, who was born on April 3, 1984, has felt similar emotions over the years when he heard the stories of his father, Bernard senior - who will be forever remembered by sports fans as the scorer of the winning Dublin goal against Kerry in the All-Ireland Football semi-final in 1977. Bernard, so the legend goes, had been working on a rig in the Kinsale gas field at the time, but got the weekend off.

As The Irish Times' described it: "In that stunning crescendo to an incredible game he was fed by Tony Hanahoe as he came loping through from the middle and [commentator] Micheál O'Hehir ensured his immortality by noting that Bernard Brogan, who had been drilling for oil, was now in Croke Park drilling for goals. And the net rippled."

An articulate young man who is both a modern icon and a role model, Bernard junior doesn't seem overly weighed down by the Brogan family's sporting history. "My dad won three All-Irelands but he never pressurised us to play football. We played soccer. We played basketball. We played table tennis. We played all different sports."

He can remember as a kid getting lifted over the stall in Croke Park and sitting on his beloved Da's knee. "Or the three brothers had a seat between us. We had some great days following the Dubs as kids."

Now kids sit on their Da's knee and watch Bernard race around Croker for the Dubs, who seem unbeatable at the moment. That Bernard would one day play for Dublin was possibly written in the stars over north Dublin's inner city. It was definitely in his blood.

"We knew nothing else," he says. "We grew up in Blanchardstown."

He says that he gets a bit of slagging when he goes to Kerry, not least because his mother, Marie Stack-Keane, was from Listowel. Bernard turned on the Christmas lights in Listowel town last Christmas: "my Mam's town. The slagging was hilarious. 'They had to bring a Dub in!' 'There wasn't enough Kerry footballers!' That kind of stuff."

Was there a schism in the house growing up because of his mother being from Kerry and his dad being a Dub legend?

"No, no. My mother has followed Dublin longer probably than most Dublin fans have. There has always been the craic about it, but, no, she is as true Blue as anyone. She was always shouting for the Dubs. But we used to go around Kerry and you'd be walking down the road and there would be people stopping my Dad and talking to him about the 1970s and the craic and the goal he got in 1977."

Asked how that made him feel, Bernard says that "I always dreamt that I would be able to walk down the street and have my kid, and have people stop me and say, 'We had some great days with Dublin.'"

And does he plan to have a child with his fiancee Keira Doyle?

"Some day I will, yeah, hopefully. But," he smiles, "busy with all else at the moment." (The all else for Bernard Brogan is, in short, playing for Dublin; running his own events company, Legacy; and being involved with projects with his brother Alan and their dad.)

He and Keira are currently busy planning their wedding. "We are getting married at the end of this year. We are trying to prepare now and figure out everything and do our bits. But I'm looking forward to getting married."

The wedding will have to be in Dublin because he is such an icon of the capital, no?

"No, we are actually going down the country for it, in Kilkenny."

Would he not have had it in Dublin and the whole city could have had a party?

"No, we just wanted family and friends. We are going to have a quiet enough. . . well, it won't be quiet enough - it will be probably a mad enough party. I'm looking forward to it. It should be a good oul' shindig."

The story of how Bernard Brogan and Keira Doyle met and fell in love could not have been scripted better if it had been done by oul' Hollywood.

"We were childhood sweethearts," he says. "We met when we were 13."

Did he say to her: 'I'm going to marry you in 20 years'?

"I probably did at some stage. Nothing too corny!" he laughs.

"We grew up together. The relationship just blossomed. We hung around together as kids. We lived two hundred yards away from each other.

"We have been together for about 12 years. We were kids when we first met. We were only innocent kids at the time and then we became great friends. We were friends for a long time and then we went out and then we went to college."

It is perhaps a testament to Bernard that he has been with the same woman effectively all his adult life.

"She is a great bit of stuff," he says. "She's in communications. So she's a smart girl. She keeps me on my toes."

How would she describe him?

"Probably a pain!" he laughs.

"Ah, no, I'm not. She's very understanding that my time can be difficult because of training and because I run my own business. So there is not enough hours in the week to get around to everything, but she is very understanding. She never gives out. She is always there behind me at every game. That's all you could ask for."

They share the cooking at home in Castleknock. "I cook a good sweet potato shepherd's pie. And King crisps sambos! I enjoy everything in moderation. I grew up on King crisps sambos. I actually had a King crisp sandwich on Sunday because I got a box of King from the guys. It was my day off. King Crisps are my Achilles' heel!" says Bernard, who is here for this interview because of his promotional involvement with the aforementioned crisps. (I'm sure he is making a packet.)

"The King of the Hill campaign is a good one because they are two iconic brands, the Hill - when I grew up, all I wanted to do was go to the hill, and all I wanted to do was to score a goal into the Hill - and King crisps. They are two amazing Dublin brands."

King c risps notwithstanding, Bernard and Keira are both fans of Game Of Thrones. They watched the series last night at home in Castleknock. "Keira and I love it and follow it with great interest."

Many people up and down the green and pleasant land of Ireland are currently following with great interest the progress of Brogan's team in the blue jerseys. Are Dublin beatable?

"Absolutely, yeah. There is no one answer to anything. Any team can be beaten on any given Sunday."

Where is the team's Achilles' heel?

"Sure, I couldn't tell you that. We'd be beaten then!" he laughs.

Is it about not becoming complacent?

"Yeah. I think when teams go out and say I want to win the Premier League, or we went out and said we are going to win the All Ireland, we are the best - that's when you start becoming complacent and you take your eye off the ball. We stay in the present and we stay focused on the next game."

Is Bernard Brogan undroppable from the Dublin team?

"Definitely not, no."

When was the last time he was dropped?

"I can't remember. I think the last time I was injured was 2012, 2013. But I am definitely not (undroppable); the competition is unbelievable. The young lads coming in ..."

In terms of what it is like for Keira to be in a relationship with a man so seemingly consumed by his commitment to success in a blue jersey, he says: "Playing football for your county requires a lot of time commitment with training, gym work and on top of that you have to watch what you're eating. It's all- consuming.

"Keira knows this, she swam competitively and has always loved sport. She understands what it's like when you're heavily involved in sport, there's a certain amount of time and effort you need to put in to achieve a certain level. Our weekends aren't always our own and we both miss out on things with our friends, but she is a massive support and makes it all easier for me."

The house Bernard and Keira live in now is less than a mile from the Brogan family home around the corner.

"We had the best of everything. We lived out in front of a green. We spent morning until dusk playing World Cup soccer or kicking points over in the pitch. We were a sport-mad family and having the three brothers helped, because we were within two years of each other on both sides. So we always had someone to knock around with and have a bit of craic with, you know?"

He used to share a bedroom with his little brother, Paul. The first poster Bernard put up on his wall was of Ryan Giggs of Manchester United. "I used to love Giggsy. So I had a good few photos of him up and a bit of Roy Keane as well. I used to follow Man United. Giggsy is a great lad. I am trying to aspire to the longevity of his career."

Does he ever take his jersey off and run down the line waving it after scoring a goal, like bare-chested Giggs did in that famous occasion against Arsenal in 1999?

"No, no. We don't get away with that!" he roars with bellylaughter (please note: super-fit Brogan does not have a belly.) "The GAA don't do that. We kind of get on with business. The GAA is a bit more subdued than the theatre of soccer. It is very real and very honest."

I ask him has he ever been sent off.

"Once or twice - a long time ago."

What was he sent off for?

"Oh - handbags stuff!" he laughs. "It was in Parnell Park in Dublin. I think it was the only time. It was the Dublin v Meath match and there was a bit of handbags, a bit of a mill with all the players involved. There was no major malice in it. It was a bit of pushing and shoving and a couple of us got sent off."

The first book he can remember reading was Catcher in the Rye as a 12-year-old. "It was an interesting one about the simple life in America in a difficult time, but I suppose the simplicity of it and the complexity of it at the same time" is what resonated with young Bernard.

Is that a bit like Bernard Brogan, I ask? Is he, as he seems, complex beneath the surface?

"I have never thought about it like that. It might seem that it is all Dublin [GAA] and the public eye and that kind of thing, but at the end of the day I'm just a normal Joe Soap. I go to work every day and I train hard at the weekends. I spend time with my fiancée," he says referring to Keira, "and I try and enjoy life. That's important. I am on the board of Aware, and I do a lot of work with them, trying to promote them and obviously help with depression and other mood disorders."

Did he ever go through that himself?

"No, but there have been people in my family that have struggled with it. It is something that I am passionate about to try and help in any way; whatever I do, is only small but I try and be a spokesperson for Aware and try and get awareness out there," Bernard says.

"Obviously, people like Bressie have really taken away a lot of the stigma but there is still a massive stigma, I suppose. A lot of the services they do, it is still very female-centric because young men are still challenged too . . . they are still afraid to say it to each other and to their friends. It is changing. I'd say to people: 'Just talk.'"

"People are very accepting of it now. That stigma has gone a little bit; it is still there, but people are more open to people who have those issues. It is a difficult one, because no one ever knows what is under the surface with people. So it is important that there are services there that help people who are struggling at difficult times in their lives."

King crisps have teamed up with another of the Fair City's finest, Bernard Brogan, to launch the 'King of the Hill' campaign. To celebrate this joining of clans, King crisps will be showing their true colours for a limited time only. They'll be turning the iconic red packaging blue in support of their favourite football team. Also, consumers can win a training session with Bernard via King social media.

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