Tuesday 17 September 2019

Dick Clerkin: 'Brogan still has the chance to be one of the lucky ones and go out in a blaze of glory'

Bernard Brogan and Jim Gavin congratulate each other after Dublin’s victory against Tyrone in last year’s All-Ireland final. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan and Jim Gavin congratulate each other after Dublin’s victory against Tyrone in last year’s All-Ireland final. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

Walking out of Croke Park after the 2017 Leinster final, Bernard Brogan must have been in buoyant form. Sprung from the bench in the 24th minute as a black-card replacement for Dean Rock, he would go on to kick an impressive five points from play. All the signs pointed towards a return to his best form.

It is hard to fathom, therefore, that those points could very well turn out be the last Championship scores he will kick in Croke Park. His input for the remainder of the 2017 Championship was limited to a few scoreless introductions from the bench.

A second cruciate injury in February of last year reduced the 2018 season to a token run-out in a nothing Super 8 game against Roscommon, in what was a rare show of compassionate sentiment from Jim Gavin.

His heralded comeback following that game, however, was premature. Mentally it might have done him more harm than good in the long run. The road to recovery from an ACL is long at the best of times. To do it, and try to break back into this Dublin team, the wrong side of 30, is close to impossible.

The drawn All-Ireland final between Kerry and Dublin will go down as one of the great days in Irish sport. The atmosphere just before throw-in was electric, with unexpected rays of sunshine beating down to further rise the temperature of the GAA's colosseum.

Just before throw-in from my side-line vantage point, I stood up to look at the back rows of the Dublin bench to see if I could spot Brogan among the substitutes, as was the case last year when he similarly wasn't named on the match-day panel. No sign.

Bernard Brogan, arguably the face of Dublin GAA for the past 10 years, wouldn't be with his team on their greatest of great days.

The cold reality is that Brogan hasn't been a central figure in the Dublin panel for over two years. Yet many still feel for a variety of reasons, fitness allowing, he should still be a part of the match-day panel having worked so hard to get back into contention.

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Jim Gavin evidently disagrees, and it left a bad taste in more than a few mouths in the build-up to the drawn game. Especially with Diarmuid Connolly taking his place, who only a few months earlier was in the departure lounge of Dublin airport. This must have stung Brogan.

Bernard Brogan Snr admitted prior to the drawn final that his son was "bitterly disappointed" about not being involved in the panel for the final. Had it been a mutual acknowledgment between Gavin and Brogan that he wasn't worth his place on the panel anymore, there is a strong chance we would know, in a subtle way at least.

Brogan obviously feels he should still be involved, as was honestly articulated by his father, so being forced to stand in the margins against your own convictions is a difficult place for a sportsperson.

Believed

Recalling how my own career came to an end, at a similar age to Brogan, I too felt hard done by at the time. I believed I had more to give, but the decision of my time being up was ultimately taken out of my hands.

Sitting on the bench, as an unused sub as Longford dumped us out of the 2016 Championship, was difficult to accept. So difficult that I didn't fancy the idea of experiencing it again, and so there and then I decided to call it a day. In my own head anyway.

As a player, however, you are generally the last one to accept your time is up. In an honest interview earlier this summer, Paul Flynn expressed how he couldn't feel the same level of enjoyment or satisfaction being involved with Dublin as a bit-part player.

Even the lure of the historic five-in-a-row wasn't sufficient motivation for him to endure another season on the margins. Brogan, who at 35 is two years older than Flynn, obviously feels he can still contribute, and has worked tirelessly to continue to be part of the dynasty he was such an integral part of building.

Sources tell me Brogan watched the final from up in one of the corporate boxes, and rejoined the panel in the dressing room after the final whistle. Coming back down the lift, after Dean Rock had almost signalled a likely endpoint of Brogan's career, his head must have been all over the place.

On one hand, gutted that the five-in-a-row wasn't clinched. On the other, buoyed by the possibility that his playing career might just not be over yet. With Gavin's bench misfiring, Brogan's name was being thrown around the post-match bar conversations as a potential option for the replay.

Plenty of similar comments will have been thrown in his direction in the days since.

More than once in the last week, he will have heard something like: "They could have done with you out there in those last 10 minutes, Berno." And while he's likely to be diplomatic in response, the competitive fire inside him would be stoked once again.

We won't know whether that's enough for him to get back into the 26 until next Saturday but, as with all great forwards when presented with a second chance, he'll give it everything he has to take it.

Irish Independent

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