Brogan: Next game in a blue shirt will be the sweetest
He's won five All-Ireland medals, he has four All Stars and he's a former Footballer of the Year, but give Bernard Brogan one more competitive second in a Dublin jersey and he'll cherish it more than anything that has gone before him.
Brogan acknowledged at yesterday's Supervalu All-Ireland Football Championship launch that "time is not my friend" as he strives valiantly to play some role in Dublin's quest for a fourth successive Sam Maguire success.
August remains his target to return from a cruciate ligament tear but with the Dublin train moving at such a fast and furious pace, what carriage he can hitch himself to remains to be seen.
"I'm not even thinking about the All-Ireland, I'm thinking about game time and if I get that with Dublin again, it will be my sweetest I've ever had," he explained.
It is the second such rupture of Brogan's career - he estimates that his extended family have suffered around 20 similar injuries - but by far the biggest challenge he faces after turning 34 in April.
"I made my debut in 2004. Maybe after the [earlier] cruciate it took me a while to get going but I fought to get in here and I have another fight to try and get back in again. I feel like there's unfinished business for me personally, whether the management or the team [agree], that's outside my control."
Brogan sounds an optimistic note that he can play again, whether it's this season or next. "I want to still put on that Dublin jersey again and grace that field [Croke Park] out there. That's my only ambition now, to cross that white line on a championship match day."
Brogan did the damage to his knee at Dublin training in Innisfails GAA club on the Thursday before their third league match against Donegal in early February.
He had begun the season impressively against Kildare, having put so much exertion into a pre-season regime that involved skipping the team holiday to South Africa as he sought to reclaim his place in the starting 15.
A handful of minutes at the end of the 2016 replay and 2017 All-Ireland finals were not what he had become accustomed to.
"I wanted to prove myself," he recalled. "I wanted to get game time. I talked to Jim, I said 'I want to play this year. I want to show you that I'm fit and able to play'.
"So, I didn't go away on the team holiday. I was in the best shape I've been early in the year, my body mass was down, everything was going well.
"I was pushing myself - maybe that was part of why I broke down. The team had been named. I was number 15. I was on the frees. It was just everything I wanted, to get that opportunity to get out there and play and then build on that momentum throughout the league.
"I've played my best football over the years when I've got game time."
"My innate competitiveness is that I've played for so long and enjoyed every minute of it. I wanted to get back playing and being a part of the team. That was my goal for the early year, game time. To be fit and able to make an impact in Croke Park come the summer.
"Was it to say, 'I'm going to go out on a high?'. I hadn't thought that much about it. I was very much thinking about trying to get back on the pitch.
"Whatever way you look at it, my game time with Dublin is slowing down, because whether it's this year or next year, you can only play for so long.
"I get a lot of energy from other sports. Look at [Isa] Nacewa with Leinster rugby. He played so well all year and drove on their thing.
"LeBron James, he's playing the best basketball he's ever played at 33, so there's loads of examples of age not being a factor because of the medicine, the diet, all this type of stuff means your body is able to react better to stress when you're a bit older," said Brogan, who also used 34-year old Andy Moran's Player of the Year form in 2017 as a measurement.
- Read more: Bernard Brogan has revealed how his cruciate injury has affected him mentally as well as physically
An August return would have him on course for a six-month recovery, quick by any standards, but longer than Leinster rugby player Fergus McFadden who made it back in four-and-a-half months, according to Brogan.
"Obviously that's a very big benchmark. But [Dublin physio] James Allen was with the IRFU and Leinster, between the two of them, for the last 10 or 15 years. So he has recovered some of these guys back in five-and-a-half months.
"In GAA, I haven't talked to anyone. Jack McCaffrey is coming back from his, he had a much longer time span but I'm pitching against him. I've chopped off two months of what his [time-line] is, I'm kind of in the same area that he was two months ago."
Brogan has been jogging in a straight line, skipping and kicking a ball to progress his recovery while also visualising relevant movements to build confidence when he does recover fully.
"Any kind of angle I can get to reduce the time at the far end when I come back to it," he said.
"There's some good research on the mindset piece and visualising the movements that you're going to do on the pitch - the pivots, the turns - that when you come around to them, because with the ACL there's a high potential for recurrence, your confidence to do some of the movements are down."