Saturday 16 December 2017

Dublin haven't needed Brogan yet ... but they will

Former Footballer of the Year has been peripheral in march to Leinster glory – Gavin must find way to get him centre stage

Bernard Brogan takes on the Meath defence during the Leinster final
Bernard Brogan takes on the Meath defence during the Leinster final
Brogan celebrating his goal against Kildare
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

It was perhaps the most complete performance so far in league or championship in this football season.

On the night that Dublin entertained Mayo in Croke Park for the third league match of the campaign, Bernard Brogan was at his illuminating best.

He had days and nights like this in the past: games that spring to mind include the 2008 Dublin club final replay, a league match against Tyrone at the end of the 2010 campaign, and the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork that year. But against Mayo in early March it felt just about as perfect as it could get for him.

He punched points, took a goal off his left, popped points with his right. He was fouled for three frees which he kicked himself and set up scores for Cian O'Sullivan and Paddy Andrews before delivering the coup de grace, a sideline converted with a slice from the outside of the right boot that was in Maurice Fitzgerald territory towards the end of the 1997 All-Ireland final.

He didn't make a bad play or a bad decision on the night; even a wide from a tight angle felt like it had justification given the streak of form he was in.

It was a catalogue bursting with brilliance, and on the back of an equally productive display for Dublin against Kerry in Killarney three weeks earlier, you couldn't help feeling that Brogan was set for a season to match the heights reached in 2010 and 2011.

The night was also significant for Ciaran Kilkenny's league debut. Following his decision to abandon an AFL career, he was given room for exclusive involvement with Castleknock in the All-Ireland junior championship before being pressed into senior action. He acquitted himself well but, beside Brogan's 1-10 tour de force, it was just a snippet.

More than four months on and there has been something of a role reversal between them, a passing of the flame in terms of who the attack is now leaning on most.

It hasn't taken long for Kilkenny to establish himself as a creative force at centre-forward, diluting opinions held after the Westmeath game that in his first full season, the inside line might suit him better.

On Sunday it didn't matter what number was on his back or where he positioned himself, handling the ball more than 30 times and invariably making it count each time.

In contrast, Brogan struggled. With Paul Mannion the preferred outlet in the other corner as Dublin sought to test Mickey Burke more than Donal Keogan, Brogan's marker, the 2010 Footballer of the Year was peripheral.

What ball did come his way was hard won in Keogan's company and not always best used. When he skied a free in the opening half that fell short of the target it was indicative of a man whose confidence was draining.

By the 60th minute he was gone for the third successive game, albeit 13 minutes later than in the previous match, against Kildare.

It may have underlined how no player is bigger than the team, but that message had been laid down to Brogan before on Pat Gilroy's watch, most notably when he held him in reserve for the opening three league games in 2010 when the blueprint for success some 18 months later was unveiled.


The results from Brogan were spectacular, both with work rate and from consistent scoring returns as he swept every individual award going at the end of the season despite not featuring in an All-Ireland final.

And when his strike rate was just three from 10 shots in the 2011 Leinster final against Wexford, Gilroy plucked him from the action, reflecting on his "human" side but also delivering the covert message that he had to be more aware of those around him.

Three weeks later he was back to his best against Tyrone in an All-Ireland quarter-final and managed to find a way in that landmark semi-final against Donegal.

Perhaps his latest dip in form is simply down to the emergence of Mannion and Kilkenny as key players in the Dublin game plan.

Brogan thrived best in 2010 when he was effectively their only outlet and, even in 2011, when space in front of opposition goals was created for him.

Maybe there is some lingering impact from the groin injury that took him out of circulation for the last three group league games this season. But why would Dublin continue to force him if that was the case?

In the new order created under Jim Gavin, Dublin have been weaned off dependency on Brogan.

But to win an All-Ireland title Dublin will need to move their most productive forward back on to centre stage again, despite the range of talent available around him.

The stick has worked in the past for him but now it looks like time for the carrot, the 'arm around the shoulder' approach to get him firing again at the back end of the season.

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