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Brogan ready for life after final bell

Dub star admits 'pang of reality that the journey is over'


Former Dubs star Bernard Brogan

Former Dubs star Bernard Brogan

Former Dubs star Bernard Brogan

Bernard Brogan is prolific in more ways than the obvious. For so many summers festooned in the ticker-tape of 'Berno' goals and points and match-winning interventions, he walked the walk with the best of them.

But, boy, can he talk the talk too.

One question, enquiring if Dublin's first championship match will be when it really hits home that he's no longer part of it all, prompts an answer stretching almost to 700 words.

This is classic stream-of-consciousness Brogan: talking for Ireland as effortlessly as he could win All-Irelands. But his response is also laced with words that cut to the heart of what retirement means for a person whose very existence has been tangled up in his identity as a blue-chip Dublin footballer. "There's going to be nothing that I can do to replicate that feeling," he admits.

"I know it's a bit different because there won't be a big crowd there," he adds, alluding to Dublin's Leinster SFC quarter-final against Westmeath on November 7, a game sure to be behind closed doors presuming it goes ahead in this Covid-blighted world.

The buzz

"But just to run out with the crowd at Croke Park or anywhere in a Dublin jersey, and the buzz around the game and the build-up, it's a special place to be. I'm not sure when it'll hit me.

"I got a few pangs over the summer, especially writing the book, reliving some memories, chatting to some of the contributors - we sat down with Paul Flynn and different people like that, Ross McConnell and Eamon Fennell, just reliving some of the stories.

"I got that pang of reality that the journey is over and got a bit upset at times, because it was such a big part of my life. I was 15 years training, four or five times a week; winters thinking about coming back, early mornings.

"Your whole life and mindset are devoted to it. For me, a lot of my personality, Bernard Brogan as a person, is aligned with Dublin GAA for loads of different reasons, media and commercial stuff ... so it's a big part of my identity. No-one can take it away from me, what you played in and what you did."

Back to the question: when will it really hit him that he's a former Dub? Maybe it will be "when I'm walking in there with the kids to watch a game on a full sunny day - maybe it's next summer. Or an All-Ireland final or a Leinster final, or a Dublin-Meath game or something like that, or even the first round. I'm not sure when it will hit but I'm ready for it."

Players depart the sanctuary of a county dressing-room for all manner of reasons, be it injury or omission or their own decision.

"For me I couldn't have given any more, I literally emptied the tank at the end. There's a bit of solace in that for me," he reflects. "I gave it every shot, obviously coming back in (after his 2018 cruciate injury) and trying to get game-time and helping the team.

"It was a tough year but a year that I kind of took on to see, can I actually help, is there anything left? In leaving, I knew that it was time and there's a lot of comfort in that."

* * * * *

The book alluded to above - Bernard Brogan: The Hill - hit the bookshelves in September. Retirement had come much earlier, the previous October. And the month before that, he was part of a match-day squad for the very last time as Dublin achieved the holy grail of five-in-a-row.

In the week of the drawn final against Kerry, he already felt "retired". But he forced his way into the replay '26' and even though he stayed on the bench, this former Footballer of the Year could depart with a profound sense of satisfaction. And no regrets.

Yet, as his memoir vividly and even painfully portrays, that last year had challenged him like none before.

'Unconscious bias'

Speaking yesterday as SuperValu launched their sponsorship partnership of the football championship, he relived some moments when he must have wondered what was the point of persisting? The 'A v B' game when he was number 31. His own belief that, while Gavin was "fair", there was also an "unconscious bias" against the 35-year-old version of Brogan.

His swansong season was the first year he would question why he wasn't playing or, more to the point, not making the match-day squad.

Reflecting back to previous years, like 2017, he felt the manager "might have been choosing lads ahead of me who were on the same level or a similar standard because he was building a team for future All-Irelands."

But 2019 was different: "Jim was all eggs in for a five-in-a-row. So I said it to him, this is the year, nothing else matters. I know you're not building, I know you're not playing lads to grow them for next year ... so if I'm playing well just give me the opportunity because I will do the job for you.

"I said it to him that I want to be a 15-minute man. I don't want to start, I want to be there to get two shots and two points for you. Or create a goal opportunity in a game where we need it. It wasn't needed in the final replay, thank God. But I was hoping that he felt I was there as an option."

* * * * *

Now, in the midst of a pandemic, Dublin are preparing for their next championship tie. Brogan is gone; Diarmuid Connolly too. And Jim Gavin.

Dessie Farrell is his own manager and Brogan won't be surprised if some of those, on the fringes with him last year, force their way into the team.

He was "blown away by Ballymun" in the county final and believes Paddy Small may have evolved into "the real deal". His fellow Plunkett's man, Seán Bugler, could have a big say as a "scoring wing-forward".

For all the blithe presumptions of another Leinster cakewalk, Brogan cautions that "it's a year for the underdogs" - that the likes of Kildare, Meath, Laois and Westmeath have "absolutely nothing to lose" in a straight knockout race, one where Covid's fickle hand could deplete even the strongest of dressing-rooms.

"I'm hoping, please God, Dublin go straight all the way to attain their six-in-a-row," he concludes. "But there's going to be some curveballs ..."

He'll enjoy the ride from his armchair seat, safe in the knowledge that he left nothing behind.