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Sunday 20 August 2017

Bernard Brogan: Donegal defeat was the worst ever

31 August 2014; Bernard Brogan, Dublin. GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Dublin v Donegal, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
31 August 2014; Bernard Brogan, Dublin. GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Dublin v Donegal, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

IT'S a fair statement for a player who has lived through the best of times and the worst of times as a Dublin footballer.

For Bernard Brogan, two-time All-Ireland winner, multiple medallist, three-time All Star and former Footballer of the Year, the worst day of all came less than six weeks ago ... his Croke Park theatre of dreams transformed into a waking nightmare populated by rampant Tír Chonaill marauders.

August 31, 2014 - the day that Dublin's back-to-back ambitions were ground into dust by Donegal.

Brogan readily admits he didn't enjoy his finest hour in that All-Ireland semi-final. He was relieved, days later, to go back training with St Oliver Plunkett's/Eoghan Ruadh, whose perennial quest for that first ever Dublin SFC title is still alive and kicking, a semi-final against St Jude's beckoning on Saturday week.

WELCOMED

"I welcomed it on the Wednesday after the game because it was obviously massively disappointing," he reflects, speaking at a Sky Sports 'Living for Sport' launch yesterday.

"The Donegal game was probably the biggest hurt that I've had in football, because we would have thought we had enough to get over the line. So, coming back to training that Wednesday, it was great to have a new focus."

That statement - "biggest hurt" - demands further expansion. After all, here is a player whose early senior ambitions were thwarted by serious injury and who has endured galling adversity amid all the recent triumphs - such as Mayo 2012, Cork 2010, and of course that horror-show collapse to Kerry in 2009.

"I think it hurts more when you feel like you've left something behind," Brogan explains. "When you give it everything and you get beaten on the day, or you don't get the bounce of the ball, that's grand.

"But when we went out against Donegal, I would have felt we left a lot behind. My own personal game, I would have been disappointed; I felt I missed a couple of kicks. I just felt we just didn't ask them enough questions at the end ... it kind of petered off a bit at the end of the game, we never really pushed them."

He accepts that Donegal "played great stuff" but that doesn't make it any easier. Watching the All-Ireland final, from his couch, was no barrel of laughs either ... but given his mother Marie's Listowel roots, he was happy to see Kerry buck the odds to land title number 37.

Since then, Jim McGuinness has called time on his Donegal reign and that's one less tactical mastermind to worry about when Dublin seek to reclaim Sam.

Brogan has mixed views on the McGuinness legacy. "He's been a wonderful manager for Donegal and he's brought them to places that, five years ago, they would have not thought they'd get to ... what he's done with them has been amazing," he says.

And the bigger picture? "I wouldn't be the biggest fan of that style of football because I have to play against it," he expands. "People say he didn't have a team of superstars - he had a team of good footballers who were going to work for a cause - and he got them to buy into that cause.

"I wouldn't be a great fan of the really defensive football. As a kid, I wanted to go out and play football and pit myself against my man and have a go at a team. So when you're trying to do that and there's three lads around you, it makes it a bit more difficult.

SAVED

"When someone has success with a system or a style of football, it feeds down. I know in 2011, everyone was applauding Dublin and saying 'Oh, you've saved football and if they (Donegal) had gone on to beat us that day, the game would have gone into disrepute and blah, blah, blah'.

"I don't know if it goes that far but the standard 15, toe-to-toe, man-on-man is the way football was started and is the way I like to play it the best. As tactics come into it more, as stats, analysis, all that stuff comes in, I can't remember the last time I saw a 15-on-15 game of football."

For all that, Brogan doesn't believe Dublin will or even must abandon the attacking philosophy espoused by Jim Gavin. Yes, they may have shown a "bit of naivety" the last day; yes, they might require more stability and more of a balance between attack and defence. But all you are talking about, he feels, is "a few tweaks here and there".

In other words, just because Kerry aped Donegal's set-up in the final, it doesn't mean every other team will follow suit.

"The way the game will evolve, I think that expansive football will win out in the end," he argues. "Especially in Croke Park when the pitch is so good. If you have a good team and they're running the ball and they're playing good football and they're working hard, it's very hard to stop a good team for 70 minutes.

"Donegal have done it well, Kerry brought a bit of it into the final. But if you have two good football teams, and they are confident in themselves, they'll go at each other. And open, expansive football will win out. Well, I'm hoping anyway!"

My own personal game, I would have been disappointed; I felt I missed a couple of kicks.

- Bernard Brogan

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