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Hard road to the semis

ALAN BROGAN wasn't even in the country -- let alone Castlebar -- in 2004 when Dublin were beaten, 1-10 to 0-3, by Mayo in a league match which must rank as one of the most sorrowful days in recent capital football fortunes.

"Drub a dud Dub, just three points in the mud..." ran the headline in the Irish Independent on the Monday afterwards and though Brogan was enjoying the last days of a holiday in Australia, news of Dublin's misery reverberated all the way to his Southern Hemisphere base.

"That was a dark day alright," he laughs now. "Better off I wasn't there! I only spoke to Mossy Quinn about it the other day when we were down in Mayo, he said it was one of his worst days playing for Dublin."


On the day Tommy Lyons' charges flopped in his native county, the Dubs scored just one point from play -- from Darren Homan -- as the rot which would force Dublin to crumble later that summer began to set.

Eight years on, the day carries little relevance to Saturday's second visit to Castlebar inside a month after Dublin's fogged-off clash with the Connacht champions was postponed, but as Brogan notes about his team's remaining two league fixtures: "Away to Mayo and Cork -- two places where we don't have a great record in over the last few years."

A win on Saturday would definitely put Dublin into a semi-final, or alternatively, an even rarer result in Páirc Uí Chaoimh a week later would likely suffice.

While neither is a given, Dublin have at least consigned their previously customary spring inconsistency to history, a trait which haunted the team during their seemingly never-ending Leinster dominance and All-Ireland drought.

"That was part of our problem," Brogan muses.

"One day we played well and the next day we'd go out and we only score three points against Mayo.

"Consistency helps guys and that comes from having a settled system of play.

"No matter who is in the team, everyone knows what they're supposed to be doing."

Brogan adds: "Even when we don't play that well, because you have the system set up, the bad defeats don't happen."

Now a firm disciple of 'the system' as designed by Pat Gilroy circa October 2009, the current Footballer of the Year has seen its benefits through the prism of September glory.

When he reflects on last year's All-Ireland triumph for less celebratory, more analytical purposes, Brogan highlights the importance of valuable lessons garnered in crucial victories last summer.

"We learned to that if we stick to our system, it will pay off in the end," he reflects. "That's the way it worked against Donegal in the semi-final and even in the final against Kerry when we were four points down ... we just kept doing what we were supposed to do and thankfully for us it paid off.

"Over the course of a season, by the law of averages, if you keep doing what you're supposed to be doing and do it well, things do turn around for you."

He's had a stagnated spring thus far -- nothing particularly new there -- and isn't yet sure about his involvement for Saturday after the calf injury which forced him off in the first half of last week's trimming of Donegal.


Brogan explains: "I wasn't sure if it was a strain or if it was a knock. I got a bit of treatment on it on Tuesday night because it was still at me a little bit.

"We're training tonight so I'll have to wait and see how it holds up. If it's not right, it probably rules me out."

After a decade spent trying to win an All-Ireland medal and coming, as it did, in the season he earned his prestigious individual accolade, Brogan's own personal goals need major readjustment.

He insists, however, that his aims are more localised and less long-term.

"The squad has got so competitive now, you're still fighting for your place every week.

"You can see it. If I go missing for a couple of weeks -- like I was at the start of the year -- Eoghan O'Gara comes in and scores 1-5.

"So there is strength in depth there that hasn't been there in the past. That drives fellas on.

"Guys want to play. I'm no different. So all you can do is work to get into the team and not take your place for granted.

He adds: "Watching Eoghan playing so well and Dermo (Connolly) playing so well, that drives me on."