Friday 6 December 2019

Tough love works treat for Brogan

Rarely does the winner of the Footballer of the Year award come from outside the All-Ireland champions, but this year Dublin's Bernard Brogan was the outstanding performer.Photo: Sportsfile.
Rarely does the winner of the Footballer of the Year award come from outside the All-Ireland champions, but this year Dublin's Bernard Brogan was the outstanding performer.Photo: Sportsfile.
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

One image in the dying embers of Dublin's second All-Ireland qualifier match against Armagh at Croke Park last July springs to mind. The final whistle is imminent, Dublin are in control, but that doesn't stop Bernard Brogan chasing down a ball that is spinning out over the sideline.

It's a lost cause. Brogan is probably aware of that, but it doesn't stop him expending every last ounce of energy to keep it alive. He loses the battle, but the point was the effort he made to reach his target.

Would the Bernard Brogan of 2009 -- the Brogan who shot the lights out against Westmeath, kicked the crucial scores to lift 14-man Dublin to safety against Kildare -- have been in pursuit of the same ball so vigorously?

The image of him being beaten persistently to the ball in the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final by Kerry's Tom O'Sullivan is far removed from the player who spun away from Ray Carey and, in one sublime movement, fired a shot with his left foot past Alan Quirke for one of the goals of the season early on in this year's All-Ireland semi-final.


Whatever about the constitution of the All Star football team itself, last night's Vodafone Footballer of the Year award had only one destination.

Rarely does the winner come from outside the All-Ireland champions, but Peter Canavan's tour de force in 1995 earned him individual awards, while Colm O'Rourke took the Texaco award in 1991.

So, for a player whose team was parked up after the All-Ireland semi- finals, to be the season's outstanding footballer, shows the sheer amount of quality performances that Brogan gave during the spring and summer.

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The achievement has only been mirrored in hurling by the performances of Dan Shanahan in 2007 and Tony Browne in 1998. In both years, Waterford also exited at the semi- final stages.

The season certainly didn't start that way for him. For Dublin's opening three league games he barely played 60 minutes of football, as Pat Gilroy held him in reserve for the trip to Kerry and Mayo and the visit of Derry to Parnell Park.

The 'treat 'em mean and keep 'em keen' policy on the management's behalf could easily have disenfranchised Brogan. And on the night that Derry came to Parnell Park, he was only the fourth Dublin substitute in -- the third replacement forward. What kind of message was that being sent to him?

That Dublin won all three opening games helped to justify the policy and, on reflection, Brogan now sees the method behind his exclusion, the need for him to change some of his ways.

"I think that was Pat trying to prove a point, that I did have to put in the work. Whereas before I'd maybe stay in the full-forward line and just try to get the scores. That's what I thought my job was, but Pat wanted more. He wanted me out hassling for ball and out breaking down the other team's defence when they had the ball," he said.

"Pat did put me under pressure at the start of the year to up the work-rate, do more laps of the pitch, stuff like that. And with the free-taking as well, I'd do something nearly every day. It helped my game as well."

Eventually, Dublin saw the game- plan evolving around Brogan. On his first full-start in the League he bagged 1-3 from play and by the end of the League, it was set in stone as to how they would play almost everything through him.

Out of the 3-31 he scored in five League starts and three appearances as a replacement, 3-15 was from play. He worked harder than ever on his fitness, liaising regularly with a personal trainer, who had an involvement with another inter-county team.

"I was flying fit. The way we played this year as well, you needed a huge level of fitness to get through the games and do the work that was demanded of you," he said. "You'd see that with the five subs called in every time. The half-forwards would be out on their feet. So, to play that kind of game, you needed to be in serious shape."

Even when the dynamic of the team changed after the Meath game and Eoghan O'Gara was introduced, the fulcrum of the attack was still Brogan. When Dublin needed an escape route against Wexford, he provided it with his goals. He was the difference on big days against Armagh and Tyrone -- signature games for an evolving Dublin team.


Those who always felt that Bernard would develop into a more complete player than his brother, Alan, have been proved correct. Gilroy's reliance on the stick more than the carrot was a gamble, but one that paid off in its own diverse way.

"Pat did torture me the first part of the year. But he's a great man-manager like that. He'd pick on me the whole time and eventually that got through to me. When I was working hard then he'd move on to someone else. He hugely improved my game and my option- taking," he said.

When his championship ended, Bernard had amassed 3-42 of which 3-20 was from play. He couldn't have done much more.

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