Saturday 19 October 2019

'Time has evaporated. It's frightening' - Bernard Brogan not ready to bow out just yet

“IT’S just unbelievable how down you get when you fear that something has gone wrong with your body. Something very close to despair. One minute you are the king of the world and then you are wondering if you are going to survive.” - Andre Agassi.

Bernard Brogan
Bernard Brogan

Roy Curtis

BERNARD BROGAN is weightless, floating, untouchable, and rapturously alive; a lord of time persuading the tick-tock rhythm of the Croke Park clock to submit to his baton.

For so many summers, the most riveting point of attention on a Dublin team liberally sprinkled with fantasy stardust, Brogan is recalling those special days when – suddenly – this confounding game seems ludicrously, join-the-dots simple.

When he is walking on air, everything unspooling in effortless slow motion. When he is the key holder and sole inhabitant of that penthouse

suite that elite sportsmen call The Zone.

When he is mainlining on his narcotic of choice.

When, as the enormous billboards festooned across the city announce over his warrior image, costumed as Russell Crowe’s Gladiator, he is “King of the Hill.”

“Honestly, there is a sense of euphoria, time slows down, everything seems easy, everything is going your way.

“I always look at the clock, it tends to slow down. You want to slow down even more, to stay out there longer. You just know everything is going to go right. What a buzz! There is no better feeling.

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“Like every athlete you are wondering how you get back into that zone. There have been a million pieces of research about how to get into that mindset where things are going well.

“When you do get into it, there is no better place on earth.

“Everything slows down,the noise drops, you can just control things.”

Brogan – five-time All-Ireland winner,four-time All Star, player of the year, scorer of 21-197 in summer Sky Blue,  the nation’s most recognisable footballer,face of a thousand ad campaigns – craves another fix of that drug that is unrivalled at triggering a racing of the blood.

His hankering to return to that palace of rapture, to the unimaginable high of making the arena your own, consumes him, dictates the rhythms of his every waking hour.

It is why, just four months after his left knee buckled and his cruciate ligament snapped, he has August ringed in his diary, why he refuses, in his 35th year, to hear the echo of Roberto Duran rolling down the years.

Why he declines to sit, broken, on his seat and whisper “no mas”– no more.

“Time is tight, but there is a very good chance if I get it right. And it not just to get on there in August to do a lap, I want to contribute.I’m massively ambitious and competitive.

“So I won’t be happy with a token, I want to get out there and help the team drive on.

“I want to make a difference. Even if it is for 10 or 15 minutes. It would be my proudest moment.”

He understands Agassi’s torment, but it is not in his DNA to mope, to surrender to the demons of negativity.

If, when his knee betrayed him, he felt the queasy sensation of someone whose drink had been spiked, if the boundaries of age are pressing in, still he is relentlessly upbeat.

Brogan might have been born in California. He pours the can-do positivity of Silicon Valley into every conversation.

His handshake is firm, he is a polished, confident speaker; his easy, upbeat nature is infectious; he maintains eye contact, makes whomever he is talking to feel, at that moment, like the most important person in the room.

The Navan Road Zuckerberg runs two successful businesses, is refreshingly open about how his GAA profile – 111,000 followers on Twitter – facilitated his entry into corporate Ireland.

“Five or six years ago, the GAA provided me with a massive platform, starting out in business, with contacts and door openings. That was through profile, playing with Dublin.

“The initial people who gave me a chance were GAA people saying ‘I know this guy, I know he has that work ethic, I know he’s a hard worker, he’s shown it in his sporting life, I’m sure he can do the same in the work space’.

“And that is how I got my first four contracts with Legacy (the marketing consultancy of which he was founder).

“And then you do a good job, your credibility rises and the business stands on its own two feet. It’s now down to the quality of the work you do, but the business was very much born out of the goodwill of GAA people.”

If he is under the cloud of career-threatening injury, the sunshine of his ambition continues to penetrate the fog.

When his knee betrayed him, on the Thursday night before a league game against Donegal, his initial reaction was to tell Jim Gavin he might still be able to play on the Sunday.

“I was on the ground. My first thought was‘f*** this is serious’. Then I thought maybe it is only a strain, I’ll have a scan tomorrow and maybe it will all be okay.”

If time slows on his best days, he cannot believe the hypersonic trajectory at which the years have flown.

One minute, a young god of his sport, the next a veteran, the next a veteran studying the longevity of Lebron James,Isa Nacewa and, closer to home, Stephen Cluxton.

Drawing out the secrets of other great competitors.

Very much in the mode of the time, Brogan last week revealed, via an Instagram post, that he and his wife, Keira, are expecting their first child this summer.

The night before our meeting, he babysat for Alan, his elder brother and long-time luminously gifted sidekick on summer fields.

Always meticulous in his preparation, he grins at the suggestion this amounted to a bit of R&D for his impending new life.

More seriously he is insistent that he is doing much more than raging against the dying of the light, that the reel of his sporting life is not yet run.

“I’ve very much not given up on my life with Dublin.

“It is frightening how quickly it has all gone by. It seems only yesterday I was sitting on the bench, waiting for my first few minutes with Dublin and the excitement of that.

“Nothing else mattered in life but getting that first five minutes. That was the dream. Then it was to get a goal into the Hill, it was to win a Leinster.

“Time has evaporated. I think it was 2005 when I came in. It has been an amazing journey, ups and downs, but it has been way too quick.

“Stephen (Cluxton) has been an absolute inspiration to me: His attitude, his physical ability, his work ethic.

“I’ll never be able to match it. It is just phenomenal what he does.

“I very much look at other sports, at older sportsmen, in boxing, in martial arts, in soccer, different people who have stood the test of time.

“Players who have gone on to play until 36 or 37 years and not just as bit part players, but actually changing what’s happening on the pitch.

“I get massive energy from that.

“I very much believe there is still a role for me on this Dublin team.I want to do my best to be there at some stage this year, hopefully in August.

“Then it will come down to how well I can train, how well the lads are going, whether Jim has the confidence to give me a roll of the dice.

“But I’ll be presenting him with every challenge to give me that time.”

And you know that this is no self-deluding show,the despair hidden behind an A-list smile.

If Agassi, when darkness fell, wondered if he was going to survive as king of the world, the king of the hill speaks with the evangelical certainty of an athlete who is sure he will.

Someone with a deep conviction that the September breeze will again shout the name of Bernard Brogan.

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