Rarin' to go - Brogan
Bernard keen for Wee exam of champions' credentials
"WE gave people who had injuries loads of time to recover," said Pat Gilroy on Tuesday night. "We felt, let's try get them fully recovered and it might stand to us in the summer."
One of those Pat had in mind was Dublin's scoring machine, the man with a sat nav built into his boots, Bernard Brogan.
A nasty knee problem kept Bernard away from the pitch until the beginning of May when he tweeted the message that his team-mates and Dublin supporters had been waiting to hear: "Tonight was my first time back in blue this year. Great to be back. I missed it."
Apart from the uncertainty surrounding recovery, a player is always concerned about regaining his old sharpness. And Brogan isn't any different in this regard.
"It's just about getting my hands on the ball," he told me recently. "I haven't had that much football. I didn't miss that much fitness work because I was able to do a bit on the side with the knee.
"I was able to do pool sessions to keep the fitness up. I just have to work with the ball and get hand-to-eye co-ordination.
"I've been out with the ball on my own most days doing kicking and stuff so I've been getting there."
As the clock ticks down to Dublin's first throw-in on Sunday, Bernard is expecting a torrid time in Croke Park.
"Louth are really good," he says. "It's not going to be an easy game for us. It'll be a big game for them coming out into Croke Park against the All-Ireland champions. They'll have nothing to lose. They'll be coming at us hammer and tongs and I don't envisage it being an easy game."
What was it like for the star forward to have to sit idly by and watch his teammates slog it out in the league?
"I was disappointed I couldn't get in," says Bernard. "I was hoping we'd get to a semi-final or final and that I'd get a chance to play a game but it was disappointing.
"It was the first league campaign I've missed since 2006. It was something I always prided myself on, having a good league campaign. It was a good stand for where you'd go in the Championship.
"I just had to get about my work and do my own bit and make sure I'd be right for when I'd get the chance. I went off and did my own bit of work with the physios and I'm feeling good. Hopefully the body will be in good order for the Championship."
Clearly, he's buzzing ahead of the summer. "I can't wait," he enthuses.
"Obviously I haven't played any major football this year and I want to get back out there onto Croke Park. It's been really quick coming around since the final. It's flown in. But I'm really looking forward to getting back."
How concerned is Bernard about Dublin's unsteady performances during the league?
"Maybe in the league we lacked a bit of intensity," he admits. "If you look at the league performances from last year, the tackle rate and the work the lads were doing was unbelievable.
"Maybe this year there was a hangover from the All-Ireland. I'm not sure. But the intensity wasn't there as much as we'd want and that's something we're having to address going into the Championship.
"If we let down our guard, we'll be landed on our arses. So we'll have to up our intensity and then it comes down to whoever wants it the most on the day."
Intensity can sometimes come over-cooked. Is Dublin in danger of developing a disciplinary problem?
"Our league campaign looks bad discipline-wise," shrugs the forward. "There were a couple of unlucky decisions but you have to keep the lads on the pitch. We've talked about it and going forward there won't be many more incidents."
As an observer, did Bernard feel that Dublin's opponents came into matches with a bit of added bite?
"Yeah, I think so," he replies. "In the past, for us the game against the All-Ireland champions was always the game you'd see where you stood.
"A lot of teams put in great performances against us. We had a couple of good performances as well in the league but we also had a couple of slippy ones.
"It was an up-and-down league so I'd say Pat found out a lot about players from that and what he needs going into the summer. He had a good look at other teams as well and seen how they're moving."
Has Pat Gilroy been working on the group mind-set to help the panel bring a fresh focus to this new Championship campaign?
"We're going to have to put the last year behind us now and get on and look forward to this first game," insists Bernard.
"It's not going to be easy. It's going to test where we stand and test our mental strength. If we go out there complacent and think we're going to swan into an All Ireland semi-final, we're going to get turned over.
"It's a very hard thing to do, to retain the All-Ireland title. The only way we're going to have any sort of a decent summer is to focus on one game at a time," concluded the St Oliver Plunkett's/ER clubman.