Comment: Bernard Brogan's return from horror cruciate injury is the mark of a true winner
EIGHT days previously, Clare’s joint hurling manager Donal Moloney stood in the same spot where Jim Gavin sat on Sunday in the media room under the Hogan Stand in Croke Park, beaming with adulation for Aron Shanagher.
“It is pretty amazing, yeah,” Moloney gushed. “As cruciate ligament injury recoveries go, it is pretty incredible.”
Not only had Shanagher come off the bench for his first appearance of the year and scored a goal to help Clare save a breathless draw with Galway, he did it just shy of eight months after undergoing cruciate ligament surgery.
On Sunday in Croke Park, Bernard Brogan made it back just over five months after the same procedure, an unprecedented comeback time from ACL reconstruction for a GAA player.
Shanagher went under the knife at the start of December, ten weeks before Brogan.
Yet there was just a week between their respective returns to competitive action.
Back in April, Brogan publically revealed he had targeted a rehabilitation time roughly in line with that of Irish international, Fergus McFadden, who made it back to competitive rugby in under five months.
His goal was clear but improbable: play in the 2018 All-Ireland SFC Championship.
Leinster flanker Josh Van Der Flier underwent the same operation on the same day as Brogan and he is expected to begin full training when Leinster resume for pre-season.
And the process has been completed by professional athletes in a shorter timespan than Brogan managed it, although an accelerated recovery time is fraught with danger.
Famously, NFL wide receiver Jerry Rice made such a comeback in three-and-a-half months in 1997.
In his first match back for the San Francisco 49ers, Rice scored a touchdown, but as he landed from the catch, cracked the patella in his left kneecap.
Rice had gone against the wishes of doctors in playing so soon after his operation and the subsequent injury was deemed to have been caused by his shortened rehab to the wasted muscles around his knee.
A 2002 study from ‘The Journal of Arthroscopic and Related Surgery’ examined ACL injuries in the NFL from 1994 to 1998.
It showed that for players with no swelling, typical range of motion and sufficient strength, 90 percent of doctors allowed them back on the field in six months.
Players who came back sooner usually hadn’t sufficiently built up the muscles around the knee, affecting their balance, causing fatigue, regularly resulting in re-injury.
Rice’s ill-fated return was 14 weeks in duration but Brogan’s 23 weeks is an astounding reflection of his determination to play this season.
Asked whether he was surprised to have Brogan available to him, Gavin stressed: “No, if you were talking to him over the last five months it hasn’t been a surprise at all.
“He’s been very focused on what he wants and a medical support team in Dublin have given him great support over the last couple of months. No, I haven’t been surprised.”
Initially, Gavin had been naturally skeptical about Brogan’s ambitious plan.
Back in March, Alan Brogan revealed his younger brother’s aspirations when he said: “He’s looking at how quick can you get back and I think he’ll give it a lash to try and get back for around August, the six-month mark.”
Soon afterwards, Gavin was asked about the plan and sounded caution.
“I’ve no doubt we’ll see Bernard back playing again,” he said. “But whether that’s in the Dublin jersey this year, we don’t know.”
Asked on Sunday if there was anything specific that Brogan had done to get back so quickly, Gavin shrugged.
“Just hard work and being very sensible. He’s applied himself so well to it every day over the last number of months and he’s got a fantastic attitude, which is probably the most important thing.”
It was impossible to tell from his six-minute involvement on Sunday quite what sort of form Brogan is in. He never touched the ball, though his movement seemed unhindered.
There is little doubt that Gavin would not have put him on the Dublin bench unless Brogan was physically able to contribute.
Against that, he would not have made an appearance but for the requirement for a blood sub when Mark Schutte was injured.
At that stage, Gavin had made his six allotted substitutes to a team that featured 10 changes from the side that beat Tyrone two weeks previously, yet Brogan wasn’t among them.
True, Brogan became the 30th player used by Gavin in this year’s championship, but not before Eoghan O’Gara, Conor Mullally, Andrew McGowan, Schutte and Paddy Small became the 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th and 29th respectively.
He is therefore, well down the long, snaking queue of Dublin forwards vying for favour.
And with Brian Howard, Ciarán Kilkenny, Con O’Callaghan and Dean Rock not even part of the squad last Sunday and both Niall Scully and Paul Mannion unused subs, there are no guarantees that Brogan will see any further game-time in the season expected to be his last as an inter-county footballer.
Regardless, simply making it back on to the pitch last Sunday will sit among his finest achievements.
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