Friday 23 February 2018

End of the Road? After skipping annual holiday to work on fitness, injury is so cruel on Bernard Brogan

Bernard Brogan in action against Kildare and (inset) with Sam Maguire last summer
Bernard Brogan in action against Kildare and (inset) with Sam Maguire last summer
Medical advice will guide Bernard Brogan’s next move but surgery would rule him out for the season. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Bernard Brogan was one of a number of players who opted not to go on Dublin's team holiday to South Africa at the beginning of the year for a few reasons, but chief among them was to stay at home and put in some extra fitness work.

The aim was to hit the ground running. His last two seasons had ended with no starting place in the final game, the 2016 All-Ireland final replay and the 2017 All-Ireland final.

He came off the bench in both but for a player who has enjoyed such a stellar career, this is not the way he would have envisaged it winding down.

Last year would have hit him hardest. Not counting added time, he spent just 128 minutes out of a possible 420 that Dublin played in their six championship matches, less than a third of total time.

Critically, for the last two against Tyrone and Mayo, there was just five minutes of action, aside from the lengthy injury-time at the end of the final.

When it came to it he was the third attacking substitute in, behind Kevin McManamon and Diarmuid Connolly, fourth if Paul Flynn, who played at midfield, is included.

By his own admission, it left him with a lot of thinking to do about his future and judging by his comments to Donnchadh Boyle in an Irish Independent interview in November, stepping away was a real option.

"Throughout the summer I wasn't sure what I'd do," he admitted. "I had some good form and bad form and was getting only so much game-time. So I was thinking, 'will I give it another go or is my time gone?' And I was rolling that around in my head."

But a conversation with Jim Gavin appeared to have soothed his concerns, outlining how there was a role for him, and he approached the new season with renewed vigour.

Thus, the challenge within Dublin for some of their most seasoned performers striving to regain lost territory to some of the younger players promised to be just as intriguing as the challenge facing the rest of the country to eat into Dublin's dominance.

It started well with an effective front-line performance against Kildare where he set up both Dublin goals, but after missing the trip to Tyrone, he tore a cruciate ligament at training on Thursday night and now faces the prospect of missing the entire season if the damage is bad enough to require surgery.

Alternatively, rehabilitating the ligament, as Michael Darragh Macauley did when he suffered ligament damage in a club game last May, is an option.

Macauley's 2017 championship experience wasn't memorable from a personal point of view, however.

Like Brogan, he too sat out the Tyrone game and played no part in the All-Ireland final, having made a brief appearance against Monaghan in the quarter-final.

Medical advice will guide Brogan but building up the muscle around the ligament - which looks like the preferred option for now - takes time and presents its own vulnerabilities.

So Brogan is putting himself in a situation where his role may continue to be limited to impact, just as Macauley's was last year.

When he made his decision to return for 2018, fulfilling much the same role as he did in 2017 was never the aim.

Surgery now would rule him out for the season and as a 34-year-old this time next year, re-establishing himself in a forward line packed with options would be even harder.

As it has been throughout the cycle of this current Dublin team, the attack has easily been the most congested with Paul Mannion, Dean Rock, Ciaran Kilkenny and Con O'Callaghan firmly established, Diarmuid Connolly likely to join that quartet once he re-integrates sufficiently, having returned to training, and Brian Howard looking every inch the player Connolly predicted he would be late last year.

Niall Scully remains an option in a few positions that Dublin are likely to return to while Eoghan O'Gara, Paddy Andrews, Kevin McManamon, Colm Basquel, Paul Flynn and Cormac Costello are still vying for an opening.

Brogan previously suffered a cruciate ligament tear in 2004 when he was just 20 and it arguably delayed his progression to the Dublin team, with his championship debut taking three more years.

But progress after that was fast-tracked to the point where he was Footballer of the Year just three seasons later and retained a rich vein of form right up to 2015 when he was again among the top three players, on form, in the game.

His influence has ebbed in the last two seasons and now such a time-absorbing injury threatens to bring one of the great careers of this decade to an unfortunate close.

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