Wednesday 18 September 2019

Alan Brogan: 'Having Bernard there would be hugely beneficial for the Dublin panel'

Bernard Brogan will be in the Dublin squad for the replay
Bernard Brogan will be in the Dublin squad for the replay

Alan Brogan

THINGS a former Dublin player gets asked about by total strangers and casual acquaintances in the build-up to an All-Ireland final: (An incomplete list).

1) Who will Jim put on David Clifford?

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2) Will Dermo play a bigger role?

3) Are the rest of the panel pissed off that Dermo's back in the squad?

4) Why didn't Dermo want to come back in the first place?

5) How come Jim asked Dermo back in so late in the season?

6) Do I have any tickets?

7) What's the story with Bernard?

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That last one is gaining serious speed in the race to be the most asked question this week.

What's the story with Bernard?

It's weird enough retiring from playing for Dublin and having to remove yourself completely from what goes on inside without having a direct family member involved.

But leaving that aside, it seems as though the groundswell in Dublin (or at least, popular opinion among the total stranger/casual acquaintance community) is that Bernard could squeeze on to the bench for Saturday's replay.

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Honestly, I don't know. And I wouldn't put Bernard in an awkward position by asking him that question.

It's a hard one to call for a number of reasons – none of which are sentimental.

Firstly, the dynamic of the Dublin bench has changed this year.

In my last game in the 2015 All-Ireland final, I was joined on the bench by Cormac Costello, Mick Fitzsimons, Michael Darragh Macauley and John Small – all of whom were capable of making a major impact on the game.

In 2017, Bernard, Niall Scully, Diarmuid Connolly, Cormac, Paul Flynn and Kevin McManamon all came on.

Any one of those players could have started that game. And Jim preached the value of having guys who could come on and finish the job started by the players with numbers one to 15 on the back of their jerseys.

If you were one of those players, you didn't like the fact that you couldn't directly affect the match until you were brought on, but that didn't detract from the importance of your task.

Now, it's a little bit different.

Do Dublin have 'finishers' or do they have subs in the more traditional sense?

Players who come on only when someone in their position is tired or playing poorly?

Other than Macauley, who at 33 still expends as much energy as anyone else on the pitch, there are no 'set-piece' substitutions.

Last time out, it was Paddy Small who came on for Macauley, testament to how ambitious Jim was in trying to win the match, despite going down to 14 men.

But were it not for John Small's hand injury, he wouldn't have had a single change to a defence that conceded 1-16.

Diarmuid Connolly and Cormac Costello are both players who can turn games, but Jim didn't see fit to bring either of them on until the 68th minute.

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Dublin's Diarmuid Connolly is tackled by Kerry's Tommy Walsh. Photo: Sportsfile

It's difficult to know whether Dermo would have come in at all were it not for the fact that Brian Howard's GPS nearly exploded with the amount of ground he covered.

Meanwhile, Dublin's bench didn't score for a second game in a row.

So where does Bernard fit into all this?

Firstly, Bernard is an inside option of the same ilk as Paddy Small and Paddy Andrews, so the notion that Dermo took his place on the bench isn't factual because they don't play the same role.

Could he make an impact on Saturday?

Listen, there's always a role for experienced subs, players who have been there and seen everything there is to see and dealt with all the pressures that go on around All-Ireland finals outside of the match itself.

And having Bernard there, even as a sounding board for the other players, would be hugely beneficial for the Dublin panel.

There's a sort of comfort blanket in the presence of a player like that on big match days for the younger guys on the panel.

And judging by how sharp he looked, albeit in a fleeting appearance in Omagh, and how he has performed in League games with the club this summer, he could definitely make an impact on the pitch.

Forwards like Bernard are rare.

You need to have the patience, and discipline to stay close to goal and uninvolved with the play for long periods but then be tuned in enough to pounce when the ball finally comes.

It's an even tougher role than it used to be, given the number of teams that flood that area with defenders.

At Bernard's age, you can't be making 30 or 40 sprints for nothing, but if the game is stretched, as it was last Sunday week late on, he's exactly the sort of fella who only needs one touch to snap off a shot in injury-time.

That's innate. You don't lose it with age. Whether Jim thinks so or not, I don't know. It's been a long 18 months for Bernard to get back to this position after that cruciate injury.

He's not one to mope or feel sorry for himself and he'll have been the first man to start the ball rolling in preparation for this game in the days after the draw. Maybe for him, personally, this match going to a replay is a stroke of luck for a final opportunity.

After what he's given to Dublin, making the bench for what is probably his last match isn't going to define Bernard's inter-county career.

But there's no doubt it would be a great way to sign off.

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