'If I started now, I don't think I'd make it' - Alan Brogan speaks to Paul Kimmage
A few weeks ago, when the editor called and broached the subject of an interview with Alan Brogan, my initial reaction was: 'Christ! What will I say in the introduction?' It's become a pattern, you see, to begin these interviews with an anecdote or witticism or some past experience we've shared.
With Ruby Walsh, it was a walk around Aintree with his father, Ted, on the eve of the 1992 Grand National. With Nick Faldo, it was a memory from the 2009 Open at Turnberry, as he marched from the 18th green. With Tony Cascarino, it was a snapshot from the arrivals hall at Luton airport as he ordered some coffees, phoned an insurer and wrestled with a credit card . . .
"Paul! Paul! What's that number?"
"The three on the back?"
"Hello? Yeah, it's 7-7-8."
And with Eddie Jordan (coming soon) it will be the time I fell off his yacht into the harbour in Monaco.
Alan Brogan doesn't have a yacht. And has never asked me for the numbers on his credit card. In 2002, when he made his Championship debut for Dublin, I was chasing Roy Keane across Saipan and then left to work in England. In 2012, when he had at last won an All-Ireland, I was home but out of a job.
So it feels a great day for Dublin when we finally get together at Number 31 - the splendid boutique hotel in Leeson Close - to discuss his remarkable career life in Gaelic games.
11 Leinster titles.
3 National League titles.
And his pending arrival as a columnist with our paper.
"When's the last time we met?" he asks, shaking hands.
"We haven't," I reply
"I've never interviewed you before."
"I suppose it is."
"You must be the only one."
Now that's a start.
1 The meat of it
A few minutes after the end of the game, as Bryan Cullen lifted the old canister and everyone roared, Stephen Cluxton turned down the tunnel to the dressing room, studs clacking on the concrete. Marty Morrissey spotted him. Was Elvis leaving the building? He peered around the dressing room door. The place was empty apart from Cluxton, peeling off his gloves and throwing them onto the bench. "Stephen," Morrissey said. "Are you not going out to watch our presentation?"
"Ahh no," he replied, "I'll leave it."
After years spent in dressing rooms and along sidelines for RTE witnessing moments that would never come around twice, Morrissey pressed him a little.
"You should go out Stephen and enjoy it." Again, Cluxton said no. He was happier where he was. Now, Morrissey got to the meat of it. The nation wanted to see and hear a hero. He asked for an interview. Cluxton smiled and said no. "But this is your moment," said Morrissey. "Everyone will want to talk to you. You may as well do one and get it over with."
Cluxton paused. For years he had lived comfortably without the media. To him, they were a distraction. Did they make his kick-outs or his shot-stopping better? Did they help him as a teacher? The way he saw it, the media build you up to knock you down. Where was the good in that for him?
At the end of the game, Tomás Ó Sé handed Cluxton the ball he had kicked over the bar to win the All-Ireland. It was a noble gesture that reflected perfectly the grace of Kerry's reaction to defeat, and Cluxton waited for Ó Sé to walk away before dropkicking the ball into the Hogan Stand. Playing football wasn't about souvenirs and newspaper cuttings and romance to him, but excelling. Only excelling.
- Michael Foley, The Sunday Times
Paul Kimmage: The last time I was in this hotel was for an interview with Paul Galvin, who had just written his autobiography. Have you ever thought about writing a book?
Alan Brogan: I have, and it would probably make a decent enough story, but I decided I didn't wanted to go down that road of opening up the privacy of the dressing room. Some stuff happened or was said in there that will always, or should always, remain private, and when you do a book you have to give away a certain amount of that information.
PK: Because otherwise you're cheating your reader?
PK: Did you read Paul's book?
AB: I read bits of it; I have two kids now and my free time has gone out the window, but I spoke to Paul about it and he seemed happy enough with how it went. If I was going to do it I would put a different slant on it, maybe something to do with the family, but causing issues with guys would terrify me. I see my dad with the '70s team - there was 25 of them in Portugal last week - and the relationship that they have 40 years later. And I'd hate to do anything that would jeopardise that.
PK: Galvin has just made his debut as a columnist with The Sunday Times.
AB: I didn't know that.
PK: So I won't ask if you've read it.
AB: No, I haven't.
PK: What about some of the other guys? Tomás ó Sé in the Irish Independent?
AB: I enjoy Tomás.
PK: Darragh ó Sé in The Irish Times?
AB: Haven't read a lot of Darragh.
PK: Jim McGuinness?
AB: Yeah, I've read Jim's.
PK: Colm O'Rourke?
AB: I read Joe Brolly and O'Rourke and sometimes I think they could be in a different part of the paper - they're not always relevant to what's going on, but they're interesting articles. And I can see how they've been there a long time because I certainly go looking for them on Sunday.
PK: You say they're 'interesting'?
PK: And you want to be interesting?
PK: One of the tasks facing Paul (Galvin) now as a columnist is his connection to the team - he is Eamonn Fitzmaurice's brother-in-law. Will he be prepared to make critical observations about the manager or the team? Luckily, that's not a problem for you; none of your relatives are involved with Dublin. . .
AB: (Laughs) It is a factor. Tomás wrote an article a few weeks ago and I imagine there was some fall-out from it but you have to be . . . at the end of the day, I will be respectful of everyone.
PK: "Bernard Brogan should be dropped."
AB: (Laughs) That won't happen this year anyway. And will it come to that? There's 101 different other things you could be writing about.
PK: Will you call it?
AB: Yeah, I think I will. If it's obvious, I will. But if I have to say something for the sake of controversy, I won't.
PK: What if it's not obvious?
AB: I hope I notice it.
PK: Will you call it?
AB: I'll have to make a judgement call: 'Is it worth it?'
PK: But ultimately, is the problem not the same as the reservations you had about writing a book? If you do it properly you're going to upset people, and it may cost you some friendships. The question is would you be prepared to put that on the line?
AB: Well, I wouldn't be looking at it from a personal point of view. I'd be looking at it from a pundit's point of view.
PK: But they all take it personally.
AB: I never took it personally. I went through 14 years (with Dublin) and I'm sure there were people who wrote stuff about me but I never fell out with any of them.
PK: Give me an example.
AB: I don't remember any . . . I stopped reading a lot of them to be honest. Ciaran Whelan started writing and Paul Curran and Keith Barr, and I'm sure at some stage I took umbrage and thought, 'You shouldn't have written that', but I didn't fall out with anyone. They were just being honest. I'm not going to say anything for controversy's sake, and I hope no one expects me to. I'll just give a knowledgeable opinion on how I think football should be played and if something is not going right, why it's not going right.
PK: Let's pretend for a moment that I'm your editor: I call you in and sit you down and start reading to you: "A few minutes after the end of the game, as Bryan Cullen lifted the old canister and everyone roared, Stephen Cluxton turned down the tunnel to the dressing room." Now, if I was your editor…
AB: You'd want an article on Stephen Cluxton.
AB: There will be one.
AB: Look, we all know Stephen. . .
PK: You know him.
AB: Yeah. (Pause) For me, he's the best Dublin footballer who has ever played, in terms of the impact he has made and the effort he puts in. I've never seen anyone work harder than him. He's the first guy on the pitch and the last guy off it - still, to this day. He's had an amazing influence on a lot of guys in that dressing room and OK, sometimes he can be a little bit strange (smiles), but we'll accept that for what he's done for us . . .
AB: A phenomenal sportsman.
PK: And probably the most interesting Dublin footballer there has been as well. I couldn't believe it when he walked down the tunnel in 2011.
AB: I don't think he'd do that now. I don't think he did it in 2013 or 2015. I'm not sure why he did it, he might not have been happy with how he played, he'd be that type. He's a perfectionist, and if he doesn't hit the levels he expects of himself . . .
PK: In every team there are guys you share the jersey with, and friends. How close did you get to him?
AB: I would have been at his wedding, but I would have been closer to some of the others. I played under-21s with him and our relationship would have been . . . not strictly football, because we would have gone out and had a few pints after matches, but we probably wouldn't be meeting up on a Saturday night in the off-season.
PK: Was he closer to some of the others?
AB: Probably, yeah. He's a very private guy, and his close friends would be the guys he grew up with. A lot of us would have socialised together in the off-season but he liked to get away from the Dublin 'bubble' and go back to his own friends. He's the type of fella that might disappear when he finishes playing and we'll never see him again. It's hard to know. He's very much his own man.
PK: Okay, so again, I'm your editor and you've made a good start.
PK: I'm going to read you something again . . .
2 The King's Speech
That winter and spring Brogan, an engineer, had been working in the power station in Tarbert. He had struck up a friendship with Jimmy Deenihan, and the two men would train together on the dunes of Ballybunion and on a hill behind the school in Tarbert. One weekend Deenihan had brought Brogan to the carnival in Finuge. He introduced Brogan to a girl called Maria. Inadvertently, Deenihan had made a contribution to the future of Dublin football: Bernard and Maria got married and produced the future Dublin footballers Alan and Bernard Brogan.
- Tom Humphries,
Kerry v Dublin
PK: Tell me about your mother's family and your relationship with Kerry?
AB: Well, we spent a lot of time down there obviously. She lived on William Street in Listowel, right in the middle of the town. My granny, Kathleen, used to bring us to the beach in Ballybunion and walk us around the town. She was very proud of us, and obviously very proud of dad. My granddad was a much quieter man, a very private man. We'd come down and walk around with Dad and he'd be stopped by everyone.
PK: So it was as a young boy in Listowel when you first had a sense that your dad was 'someone'?
AB: Yeah, maybe. There was no one point when I realised the significance of it. It felt normal to us. It was always friendly, good aul crack, and I think that was part of our problem with Kerry for a long time - they would murder us to win a match but I don't think we were the same. It was certainly a problem for me. We would have been down there a weekend a month when we were kids, so it was natural to develop an affinity. I'm very fond of my relations in Kerry, and very fond of the people I know in Kerry. I'm good friends with Marc ó Sé and had good feelings towards Kerry as a football team. I struggled at first when we were playing them.
PK: That's interesting.
AB: Against Tyrone or Mayo or Meath it was never a problem, I was going to war, but I had to work hard to find that same edge against Kerry.
PK: You're the eldest of three boys?
PK: Who was your father's favourite?
AB: Ahh Jaysus! I couldn't say that.
PK: I'm not asking you to say it. Do you know?
AB: No. I don't think he had a favourite.
PK: It never pissed you off that you weren't called Bernard?
AB: (Laughs) It never even crossed my mind.
PK: I asked about your first sense of your dad being someone - his All-Star was placed on the mantelpiece at home.
AB: I don't think that ever weighed on us. He certainly never put pressure on us. He let us develop in our own time and actually managed my soccer team at under-14.
PK: So you could have done anything?
PK: Was there anything else you wanted to do?
AB: We played a bit of soccer but maybe, subtly, he pushed us towards Gaelic. I remember him still playing and managing the Plunketts seniors, and myself and Bernard running up and down alongside them. We were only seven or eight but it probably contributed to our love for the game and determination to make it.
PK: Any early sporting heroes?
AB: Mick Galvin playing for Plunketts would have been one, but any of that Dublin team - Keith Barr, Charlie (Redmond), Paul Curran and 'Jayo' (Jason Sherlock), obviously, coming into '95. I supported (Manchester) United and (Eric) Cantona and (David) Beckham, but it was all about Gaelic for me.
PK: You mentioned Jayo: you were in the dressing room in '95 when Dublin won the All-Ireland?
AB: Yeah, my uncle, Jim, was a selector and myself and James, his son, used to share a seat in the Hogan Stand. We got onto the pitch afterwards and into the dressing room; we were huddled in the corner for a few minutes and out again.
PK: That must have been interesting?
AB: It was amazing. I remember crying after Dublin had been beaten in '93 or '94, I can't remember the exact game, and it was devastating. So I realised even at that stage what it meant. And it's the same for my own lad now, he's not too happy when the Dubs lose.
PK: Yes, I remember the picture on the front page.
AB: Yeah, they caught us crying after the Donegal game (the All-Ireland semi-final in 2014). It wasn't so much losing the match, it was when I saw him bawling as Lydia (his wife) carried him down the steps that set me off.
PK: You were 13 years old that day in '95. How was school going? Did the young Alan Brogan have any idea what he wanted to do?
AB: No, no idea. I had a stutter when I was a kid, and that would have affected me a bit, and in fairness to my mam and dad - particularly my dad - they would have put in a lot of time bringing me to different places to try and get it under control. There was this Jewish guy out in Stillorgan who was a hypnotist, Bernard Stein was his name, he gave me a tape - a relaxation tape - and would get me to do some work at home. I often fell asleep but it seemed to do the business.
PK: Have you seen The King's Speech?
PK: Did it ring any bells?
AB: It did, yeah. The problem for me was reading in school: 'Right Alan, your turn.' I hated that. I have it under control now, but if you asked me to stand up in front of 1,000 people I would still feel it, but I have breathing techniques and stuff. It didn't affect my life that much but it was certainly a consideration. But I had loads of stuff going for me that made it easier.
PK: You did a Leaving Cert?
AB: Yeah, did alright. And then I went to Maynooth and did a degree in finance.
PK: Why finance?
AB: I didn't know what I wanted to do, to be honest. I got through it (the degree) fine but football just took over. We had a good team - Marc, Colm Parkinson, Rory Kavanagh, Barry Cahill, Declan Lally, Ross Munley - but we were all young guys bar Woolly (Parkinson) and probably didn't realise it at the time. I was there for three years and then Davy Billings got myself and Barry Cahill a higher diploma course in computer science at UCD. We were chasing a Sigerson (Cup) to be honest - that's how much football dominated my life.
PK: You spent the summer of '01 in New York?
AB: Yeah, and thank God I did, because I played every summer after that and if I hadn't gone that summer I may never have got it in.
PK: You were a bellboy?
AB: I worked in an apartment block in Manhattan and it was split between a bellboy and maintenance - taking out the rubbish and stuff. It was great. I think I was making $23 an hour, I'm hardly making that now! (laughs) I played a bit of football with 'Sligo' and had a great time. I was only home a week when 9/11 happened.
PK: And then you started playing for Dublin?
AB: Well, I had actually come on in a National League game against Tyrone at the end of 2000. Tommy Carr was in charge. And then Tommy Lyons came in at the end of 2001.
PK: You were a wing-back at the time?
AB: Yeah, it was kind of a lucky break. We were training up in Westmanstown and they were two backs 'over', myself and Mick Casey, so they said: 'Right, one go forward and one go back and we'll change around after 20 minutes.' I got a few scores and started the National League that year as a corner-forward and never went back.
PK: Your championship debut was against Wexford in Dr Cullen Park on June 1, 2002.
AB: Yeah. Ireland had played Cameroon that morning in the World Cup, there was lads 'bananas' everywhere. I didn't play that well, got a point, but those tight pitches never suited me.
PK: Was it a big deal for you to make your championship debut?
AB: Probably, but when I look back the game (that stands out) is the Leinster semi-final against Meath. I marked Cormac Murphy that day and got three or four points and played well.
PK: You beat Kildare in the Leinster final.
AB: Yeah, I got a goal.
PK: Dublin's first Leinster title in seven years.
AB: That was part of our problem; you look at Dublin now and they walk off the field as if it's just another game - but we hadn't won it for so long that our hunger was probably satisfied. Some of those guys, the likes of Whelo (Ciaran Whelan), had never won a Leinster Championship. It was a huge deal at the time and we celebrated it like it was a huge deal, and we went out against Armagh (thinking) if we won it was a bonus. They beat us by a point but we were well in that game and I think purely for the fact that we were satisfied with the Leinster final, we would have won. But whether we'd have beaten Kerry or not in the final is a different story.
PK: What if someone had told you that summer that you would not reach an All-Ireland final for nine years?
AB: I always tried to take each game and each year as it came. Obviously, you're disappointed after you lose and happy after you win but I never got too upset about it. I never thought after four or five years 'fuck this! Why should I bother?'. I just loved playing football. And I loved playing for Dublin. Yeah, you wanted to win but if we didn't (it was) 'let's just roll on to next year'. Maybe that was to my detriment that I didn't look at things more closely and the things I needed to improve.
PK: You spent some time in Australia in 2004?
AB: Yeah, six or seven months. My wife - well, she wasn't my wife at the time - wanted to do a bit of travelling. If she wasn't with me she probably would have stayed for a year or two but we came to a happy agreement (laughs). We flew into Melbourne for a month, went to Sydney for three months and did a bit of travelling. It was good to get away from football at the time because things weren't going well for us.
PK: You were always coming home?
PK: For football?
AB: Yeah. You see lads now - Rory (O'Carroll) is going away and Jack McCaffrey is taking a year out, but it's probably different for them because they have two or three All-Irelands in their pocket. That's what we were chasing.
PK: The All-Ireland quarter-final that summer was your first time to play Kerry in the championship.
AB: We were hammered, I think I had six wides, but I don't remember too much to be honest.
PK: What about your mum and the fact that it was Kerry?
AB: No, in any match like that we always went into a bubble. I wouldn't take a phone call. My ma wouldn't bring anyone into the house.
AB: Yeah, she would have been very protective of that side of things. There certainly wouldn't have been 10 relations up from Kerry sitting around having breakfast.
AB: Naah, there'd be none of that. My ma was very much a Dub at that stage. I don't know what it was like before that, but certainly when we started playing she was a Dub.
PK: What about your father during all this time? What input does he have?
AB: We always discussed it but he would never intrude. He respects the privacy of when teams are being named and plans are being discussed and wouldn't put us under pressure to know what's going on.
PK: Do you tell him?
AB: No, we probably wouldn't have told him.
PK: Do you expect me to believe that?
PK: You wouldn't have told him?
AB: He wouldn't have asked. I'd give him enough to keep him happy (laughs) but he has been in that position and understands. That whole privacy thing inside a dressing room, or inside a team, is very important, and if that gets breached, even if it is with a parent or with a friend, it affects the dynamic of the team. And that was one of the good things about Dublin, everyone understood that. It was very rare in the last five years that a bit of information that should be kept in the dressing room was leaked.
PK: Tell me something I don't know about the four Dublin managers you've played under. Start with 'the culchie'.
AB: Tommy Lyons?
PK: Yeah. Isn't that what Kevin Heffernan called him?
AB: Something you don't know?
PK: Something interesting about them.
AB: I had a very good relationship with all four managers. Tommy brought me in and hung his hat on the younger guys. I don't think he believed in some of the older guys that had been there before, and the team suffered for that in 2003 and 2004.
PK: Too much youth and not enough experience?
AB: Yeah, we didn't realise it at the time but it probably affected the balance of the team, and the dynamic of the team, and guys wanted to get rid of Tommy after . . . was it 2003?
AB: I wasn't privy to that, and didn't know anything about it until afterwards, which I thought was strange given I was probably one of our better forwards at the time. But stuff happens and you move on.
PK: To Paul Caffrey.
AB: 'Pillar' was very unlucky. He had the team all going in the same direction and everyone (committed) to dying for the cause but I think he just lacked a couple of players. We had no Bernard at that stage. I was our top scorer and was only getting 1-12 or 2-12 a season and that was a problem. And we didn't have the strength in depth if we picked up a couple of knocks. But Pillar got closer than people give him credit for. We won four Leinsters. Were we too comfortable? Happy with the Leinsters? Hard to say. Maybe we thought we were better than we were and were competing with the Tyrones and stuff, when the only time we really competed was when we caught them on the hop.
PK: You were the main man during that period. The great 'blue' hope.
AB: (Sighs) Yeah.
PK: How tough was that?
AB: I always told myself privately that some of it rested on my shoulders; that I had to play well for us to win. Did that put pressure on me? Some days it did. I think we were lacking a couple of players during that period, and that cost us more than what we did on the training field. In most of those games, we just weren't as good as the teams that beat us.
PK: Enter Pat Gilroy.
AB: Pat was hard and honest and would give it to you straight between the eyes if you weren't doing what you should have been doing. He came in in 2009 and stuck with similar players and probably thought, 'I can bring this up a notch and push it over the line,' but we were hammered by Kerry and hammered by Meath. I think there were six guys over 28 on that team and he dropped four for the next game. And he told us why we were being dropped. It wasn't a case of 'you're not coming back' but it was a message. And I was lucky enough to hang on.
PK: I've quoted you that fantastic passage about Cluxton in 2011. What's Alan Brogan doing? What's going through his head when he finally wins an All-Ireland?
AB: It was a mixture of things - euphoria and relief. There was a lot of relief that we had finally managed to get it across the line.
PK: Was it mostly relief?
AB: Well, I think the way the game climaxed with the free and the whole lot added to the euphoria but once we settled down there was certainly relief of 'thank God we had managed to get one'. And we obviously enjoyed the next few months.
PK: A year later Jim Gavin took over. You had played with him?
AB: Yeah, Jim was on the panel in '02, I think he got some game time.
PK: Did you get to know him that year?
AB: Not really, we had a holiday and stuff but I was 19, and he was 31 or 32 so our paths didn't cross much. He was good craic, Jim. He took his football seriously but he would be good craic after matches. Obviously, he's the manager now and a lot different.
PK: What's the difference?
AB: He would not be one to let his hair down with the players. If we win, he might come back for a while and have a couple of beers but that's as far as it would go. And that's fair enough. I think when you're operating with guys at the top level you have to be mindful of that.
PK: There has to be a separation?
AB: Yeah. When he came in his approach was that everyone was equal. I was a senior player and under Pat that meant you became privy to . . .
PK: Some of the decisions?
AB: Not the decisions, but you'd be privy to what was going on, and privy to stuff that some (younger) guys wouldn't. I liked that, knowing what was going on, but that ended under Jim. I don't know if it's the military thing but he keeps everyone guessing. I didn't know what was going on in Jim's head in relation to team selection or how I was (playing) and I struggled with that a little bit because of what I had been used to (under Gilroy).
PK: That's interesting.
AB: In Jim's eyes there was no difference between me and a new guy coming to the panel, but he was very understanding. I had children and that was a consideration as I was coming into my 30s. And very fair.
PK: People are talking about him in the same breath as Heffo now?
AB: The most impressive thing about Jim for me is how he learned from the mistakes we made in 2014 with Donegal. I listened to a great talk last year from a guy called Gary Keegan about innovation in performance. In 2014 we didn't innovate at all; we stayed the same as the year before and thought 'Yeah, we'll just go out and blitz everyone.' Jim changed the way we were playing and we came out the following year and the whole landscape changed.
PK: He learned from the mistake?
AB: Yeah, and it's paying big dividends now.
3 To pee or not to pee
Properly managed, fame can be a handy commodity. When adidas were looking for 11 Gaelic footballers to endorse their new boot at the start of the summer, Brogan was an automatic selection. They fitted him out with the Predator Pulse and offered a choice of personalised logo for the tongue of the boot. He could have gone for any variation of his name but he went for BAC (Baile Atha Cliath).
A couple of years ago he was a poster boy for Club Energize in a billboard campaign and, this summer, he made a stand for his old product partner. Man of the Match against Meath, collared by RTE for a snap interview after the game. He asked the director if he could swig from a branded bottle in the interview and was told he couldn't.
So Brogan declined the interview and the simmering dispute between the GPA and RTE on the issue of product placement suddenly had a boiling point.
"It was something I felt very strongly about. If players were going to receive a little perk of €500 per swig on TV why stop them? It was a personal choice. I'm a member of the GPA and I stick by what the GPA has to say and what they want us to do. There wasn't an order to do this, but it was something I felt strongly about."
- Denis Walsh, The Sunday Times, July 17, 2005
PK: You're almost six months retired now. What have you enjoyed most?
AB: I suppose having the time back, although it gets swallowed up fairly quickly with work and kids. I'm still playing a bit of club football and having the summer to myself and a holiday is something I'm looking forward to. I've no regrets anyway, yet, it could not have ended better for me. I was very happy to go on those terms.
PK: Having no regrets is not the same as missing things?
AB: I'll miss the lads. Dublin will head away on a training camp in a couple of weeks and will train and have a couple of pints together. I'll miss that and getting to know fellas and the social side of things. And I'm sure I'll miss Croke Park on a summer's day. But I won't miss the training in January and March and April. And I don't miss the gym. That was one part of the game I really struggled with over the last few years. I was a footballer, and wanted to play football, I did not enjoy the gym. But it's a huge part of it now.
PK: Is it?
AB: Yeah. If I started now, I don't think I'd (make it).
AB: I don't think I'd have the physicality. My game, particularly in the last few years, was all about evasion. I just don't think you'll survive now if you're not physically strong.
PK: So it's going the same way as rugby?
AB: Well, it's not quite at the same level as rugby but I don't think smaller guys can compete. Look at the Gooch. It would be a shame to think we could miss out on someone of the Gooch's talent because he didn't have the physicality to play, but he has struggled with Philly McMahon, a huge man, in the couple of times he has marked him. And it looks like it's only going one way.
AB: Take the three guys across our half-forward line - Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly, Ciaran Kilkenny - huge men. Now they have the football to back it up but will someone like Cormac Costello, who would be a similar size to me, survive unless he buys into the weights big time?
PK: How much time is being devoted to weights now?
AB: Well, when this whole gym thing kicked off in 2006 and 2007 I was just leaving college, but the likes of Bernard and Paul Flynn were probably in the gym three or four times a week. In 2008, fellas got too big - certainly Dublin got too big - and it started to affect their mobility and stuff. The strength and conditioning programmes are more advanced now, and are more game-specific for GAA, but I still think the smaller guys are going to struggle.
PK: There was a piece written about you in 2004 that suggested the life of a professional sportsman was your idea of the perfect job.
AB: Yeah, I would have loved it. I can't see it happening, it won't happen, but I think there's lots of other stuff that could happen in terms of (compensating players) - health insurance and the tax back (scheme) which the rugby players can avail of. I don't think anyone could argue with that.
PK: Maybe the argument would be that yours is an amateur sport and rugby is professional.
AB: Yeah, that's the reason for it.
PK: And are you not in a better position now because you were an amateur? There's no massive void to fill? You don't have to reinvent yourself? The transition after retirement is almost seamless. Don't tell me professional rugby players have a better life these days than the guys who played the game before it went pro.
AB: Okay, well don't take the example of rugby players, take the tax exemption artists get for contributing to the cultural fabric of society?
PK: But . . .
AB: Look, I don't know, I haven't looked into the ins and outs of it - when I'm doing a column on it I'll look into the ins and outs of it, don't worry (laughs). And there's still a transition! Obviously, it's a choice to play inter-county football, I didn't have to do it, but I had a talent and a love for the game and I was going to pursue it. I've been very privileged with the profile I've got out of it, I can't complain and won't complain, but there are other guys around the country who've put the same effort and time and won't have the opportunities that have been afforded to me.
PK: Your argument, essentially, is that the demands are so great now that players should be compensated. What if you reduced the demands so players didn't have to give so much?
AB: That's not going to happen. Jim Gavin has to pull fellas back: 'Don't do that. We're working to a training programme here. You can't do your own thing.' But they're addicted to it. They're addicted to training. In fairness to Jim, he's very strong on the balance between your work, your sport and your family, because if you don't get the three of them right, something is going to fall down. I just think that with the demands that are there now, it's going to affect guys' livelihoods, or you'll have guys like Jack McCaffrey, who's training to be a doctor, who won't be able to play any more. And that would be a shame.
PK: Yes, that would be a shame.
AB: But that's what's going to happen. He's just not going to be able to make the commitment. Even the top clubs are going that way now. It's just all-consuming.
PK: I got a call recently from a guy who told me Dublin were blood doping.
AB: Ah, for fuck's sake.
PK: The team are so dominant now. This is what's being said.
AB: Complete and utter nonsense.
PK: What about doping in the game? You mentioned the physicality, and the premium on gym work, and then there's the supplements.
AB: Well, I can only speak on our behalf and obviously there's supplements - everyone is taking supplements now - but our supplements are managed by our nutritionist.
PK: Who's the nutritionist?
AB: Daniel Davey, he's the Leinster (rugby) nutritionist as well. Our doctors and physios would be very strict on medication and the WADA guidelines. I always used the Dublin doctor, even if it was in the off-season. And certainly in our dressing room guys are very aware of how you approach supplements and medication.
PK: So when you're given something do you ask what it is, or why you're taking it? Or do you say, 'Well, he's the team doctor. It's okay.'
AB: I go on the recommendation of the nutritionist and the doctors. What else can I do? I can't test what's in the stuff! But I'd be shocked if there was doping in the GAA. Shocked. But maybe I'm a bit naïve.
PK: Well, I don't know if you're naïve but maybe you need to read the papers a bit more. I'm thinking about the kid from Monaghan who was done for using steroids last year.
AB: Did he know he was taking steroids?
PK: It was written on the jar.
AB: (Exhales) Yeah . . . Look, I don't know if he knew what he was doing or not but that's why we have a (top) nutritionist. Jim Gavin, in fairness, puts a lot of work into it, they don't just pick a nutritionist from here, or a doctor from there. If I'm given a supplement do I go off and check it myself? No. But I always trusted our doctors.
PK: Does it surprise you this (doping whispers) is being said?
AB: It does to be honest.
PK: Your protection from that, and the game's protection, is the Sports Council and their anti-doping unit.
PK: But already there's been some grumbling about testing. Jim was giving out after the National League final.
AB: He was giving out about lads having to go in and give a test straight after the game, when the lads were out collecting the cup. And I'd agree with Jim on that. Why not come to a training session the week before?
PK: Anyone who has ever run for Ireland, or cycled for Ireland, would piss themselves laughing at what you've just said.
AB: Yeah, well, you'd wipe the floor with me with that conversation.
PK: (Laughs) "I don't want them testing me after I've won the gold medal, but they can come back a week later!" Sorry Alan, it doesn't work like that.
AB: Fair enough, and maybe that's my naivety, but I'd be shocked to be honest with you. It's not something that even crossed my mind when I was thinking about what I'd be writing about.
PK: Well, if I was your editor, I'd insist that you address it.
AB: What do you think?
PK: I don't dismiss it. I never dismiss it.
AB: No, I wouldn't dismiss it myself. The blood testing annoyed me a little bit. I'm out there playing football and going to work on a Monday morning and they want to test my blood for drugs! What the fuck? But you can't dismiss it, because there are some guys who will try anything.
AB: And I was never tested in my own career.
AB: Maybe it's because I was the smallest on the team, I don't know.
PK: You're retiring with three All-Irelands, the same as your father. How do they compare?
AB: 2011 was the big one for me. Obviously, every All-Ireland medal is special but if I had to hold one dearer than the others, that would be the one. I didn't play in the 2013 (game), I only got back from injury towards the end of the year, and 2015 was sweet the way it ended up. I had made my contribution in most games but didn't play as much as I'd have liked. In the final, I only went on with four minutes left but that looks like a tactical masterclass from Jim now, doesn't it? So I can't say anything about that (laughs).
PK: What about this summer? Will you go?
AB: Well, as I said when I wrote my few words when I retired, I will take my place amongst the Dublin supporters and that's the way it will be. I will be first and foremost a supporter now.
PK: Your father still goes to the games?
PK: So you'll sit beside him, will you?
AB: He gets a bit excited. I don't know if I'd be able for him to be honest (laughs). Nah, I'm sure I will. And I've my own lad to bring to matches now as well. We went to the League final and parked up in Phibsboro and had a bit of crack walking down the canal. It's what I did with my da and I'll try and do the same with him.
PK: Lovely. Good luck with it.
Sunday Indo Sport