Sunday 18 March 2018

Alan Brogan's final point for Dublin was fitting end to stellar career

How good was Alan Brogan? Probably the best Dublin forward in living memory - 1970s included

'Throughout his career, Alan has always just been Alan' Photo: Sportsfile
'Throughout his career, Alan has always just been Alan' Photo: Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

Context is everything. Alan Brogan's point in the All-Ireland final would have looked good in any environment, but the timing and occasion ensured it a degree of immortality.

Having watched from the bench for 66 minutes, it took him all of 40 seconds to turn a potentially catastrophic moment for Dublin, when Kerry almost goaled to draw level, into the relieving point that made the game safe.  

As a parting shot after what was, by modern standards, a long and, by any standards, illustrious career, there hasn't been many, if any, better.

Brogan's one-time Dublin forward colleague Tomás Quinn, says the score "encapsulated" the kind of player Brogan was. And while Brogan scored 11-134 over a career, which started in 2001, this final score was truly representative of his disparate talents as Quinn notes.

In a match littered with errors and hesitancy, creating a prolonged suspense, he cut the rope holding Kerry to Dublin and set his team free. His first touch had him gaining possession 30 metres from his own goal, collecting the ball from James McCarthy after Killian Young's lost goal chance. From there he carried to near the halfway line, relieving pressure, before playing a one-two with his brother Bernard, using a foot pass in wet conditions. He took it back from the brother and advanced further, deeper, and now it was time to make a final decision.

He noticed that Kerry were watching Diarmuid Connolly to his left, conscious of the possible lay-off. And then, with Kerry lulled and Connolly unhappy he didn't get the pass, there came that sweet finish when he realised the chance was there for him to take and he didn't disappoint. He almost fouled the ball, with the ultimate decision of what to do next still uncertain, but the finish was immaculate and conclusive. For a player who had to live off scrap time in his final season, and who might well have quit at the end of the Donegal game in 2014, this was a dream-like finale. He was an essential part of the team again, an influential figure.

But all great players reach their end and even if Brogan had quit after Donegal, it would not have been a sporting tragedy. He spent a long time waiting for that first All-Ireland, then two came in three years. There are a lot of players a lot worse off but, like the context in which his 134th career point is evaluated, these things are relative. It was not the way he would have wished to bow out after the last few years of his career were truncated by injury, a stuttering finish following the splendour of his Football of the Year season in 2011.

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Most finish their careers unsatisfied and some don't get to finish them at all, ruined by injury or something else beyond their control.

For Brogan to come back at 33 for the final assault, waiting until well into April to rejoin a squad not exactly light on attacking options, underlines how much that score must have meant personally. He did not return to be a bench player but that is what he had to get accustomed to and many of the appearances were limited. To come on in the final and confirm that he was the right choice at that admittedly late time offered the perfect epitaph for a player greatly admired not just within Dublin but throughout the country for how he played the game and how he carried himself away from it.

"The good thing is that throughout his career, Alan, even after he won his first All-Ireland, has always just been Alan," says his club team-mate Gareth 'Nesty' Smith, who won an All-Ireland under 21 medal with Dublin in 2003 when Brogan was captain. "He has always been a really humble guy; I think that is his best attribute."

Thirty-four in January, with two young kids, he can return to his club, St Oliver Plunketts for another tilt at that county title that has proven maddeningly elusive for them over the last number of years.

How good was he? As a Dublin forward some regard him as probably the best in living memory, the 1970s crew included. Connolly may yet surpass him, but of those whose careers are complete, and taking into account length of service, honours won, and diversity of talent, he is near the summit of Dublin football's highest achievers.

He has said one of his regrets was that some of the players he soldiered with in the earlier years, the likes of Collie Moran and Ciarán Whelan, to name two, did not enjoy the All-Ireland medal he was fortunate enough to win on three occasions. Had he finished against Donegal, then, he was still a great deal better off than they were.

The truth, of course, is that the likes of Moran and Whelan contributed in their own way towards the eventual breakthrough in keeping the torch lit and inspiring the next generation.

After all, the player who Brogan replaced in this year's final, Brian Fenton, might well have looked on Whelan, given the Raheny connection, as the player he aspired to be. And that exchange was symbolic too, Brogan for Fenton, a temporary arrangement, as in truth it was Fenton, the player of the match and infusion of new blood, for Brogan, the player on the way out after a fine career. "If you watch last 15-20 minutes of the 2011 All-Ireland final, he got two or three touches that I thought turned the tide," says Smith, who feels, like many, that Brogan deserved more game time this year. "Dublin got one or two scores out of it, that kind of graft around the middle. I don't think they'll realise how much they'll miss him until he's gone."

But 33 is old in today's game, and with a young family, and much time lost with a serious groin injury that ruled him out in 2013, he was in bonus territory. Something had to give. Family was the reason he passed up the opportunity of the team holiday to Thailand recently and, unlike Donegal in 2014, he retires knowing his young son will look back when he grows older on happier images of the postscript that followed a year later.

"Many times he took games by the scruff to neck and got us over the line," says Quinn. "He was extremely fast and could make those 40-metre runs, particularly around the middle third, that separated him from many others. He was the one getting into the positions. He never ever shied away from that, he wanted that responsibility. Alan captained Dublin and I played under a lot of captains. Some are comfortable talking, but I felt his leadership was in his actions, how he carried himself when he was on the field.

"If I'd been asked who was the best player I'd played with, him and Stephen Cluxton were the two. Now Diarmuid (Connolly) has changed that over the last couple of years but Alan for a long number of years was the best Dublin player in the game.

"I am not saying for a second he wasn't a natural forward but I watched for years how hard he worked on his left foot with Paul Clarke, when Pillar Caffrey was manager. People say he looks a natural left-footer but he wasn't able to kick like that at 18."

It looked like he was entirely natural off his left when he placed that unforgettable kick between the goalposts in September, the Hill behind Kerry's goal acclaiming the moment they must have felt the All-Ireland was theirs.

He was already a hero to those followers but he saved the best wine till last.

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