Wednesday 26 October 2016

Bernard Brogan embraces era of the blanket defence

Fermanagh will be the latest underdog to pack the back against Dublin's prolific front line ... but Brogan is up for the challenge

Dublin footballer Bernard Brogan
Dublin footballer Bernard Brogan

Bernard Brogan harks back to when he started out as a wannabe Dublin forward aiming to follow in the silken footsteps of his brother Alan. You went out onto the pitch with one overriding goal: beat your man, win your duel, then let the scores flow.

The memories seem so distant, they could almost be tinted in sepia.

Nowadays, you beat your man and you face another. And another. And another …

Debating blanket defence has become a national obsession, the subject of - well - blanket media coverage to greet every new tactical version.

You set up with a 13-man rearguard and the traditionalists scream blue murder. You go orthodox and are belittled for your naivety.

And if you're Bernard Brogan, a marquee forward facing this Sudoku puzzle? You adapt or die.

Part of Brogan finds it "disappointing" that a full-forward no longer gets as much ball as was once the norm. But he adds: "It's nice to try and figure it out.

"You beat one man, you've to try and beat another - that's its own challenge. I've had some great days where I've had high scoring and it's been brilliant. But it's a new challenge.

"Over the years I've had some great personal accolades - man of the matches, player of the year, All Stars and stuff like that.

"And I've gone to a level a maturity now that I get my massive energy out of winning games and coming up and beating structures.

"Like, that Leinster final (against Westmeath) - people say we don't care about it," he expands. "At half-time we came in and said, 'Right lads, we need to hold on.' They put up a great structure against us and we broke it down. We get massive energy from that.

"When we look back at it, when we're retired, people put that up against us and if we can say we got over it, that's as good as anything."


And yet, as the mind recalls some of Brogan's most electrifying exhibitions of his scoring prowess, you've got to wonder does he not miss the relative freedom of man-for-man combat.

Think of the 2008 Dublin SFC final replay, Plunkett's against Kilmacud, when he scored 0-10 (seven from play) against no less a marker than Paul Griffin. Or the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final against Cork, when he amassed 1-7, all bar one point from play. Or even the 2013 league clash with Mayo, when he tallied 1-10, comprising five frees, 1-4 from play and an outrageous sideline ball.

Here's the thing, though: he actually finished on the losing side in two of those games, against Crokes and Cork. That historic county title still eludes club and player. And while he finished 2010 as Footballer of the Year after scoring 3-42 (17f) from seven SFC outings, he didn't pocket a Celtic Cross.

That would come in 2011, and again in 2013. That is the ultimate prize that Brogan, 31, still craves; the exacting benchmark by which he and Dublin are now judged.

It's not that this three-time All Star no longer wreaks havoc on the scoreboard, even now that he has ceded freetaking duties to Dean Rock. Just ask Longford, who leaked 1-6 against him. Or Kildare, who coughed up 2-3.

Trying to breach that Westmeath blanket proved more problematic - but he still bagged 1-1 in the second half. "I take a lot of joy in creating a score, or handpassing a ball across to someone for a goal," he maintains.

"That's the stuff that gives you energy nowadays. You don't need to score ten points to get man of the match or to get credit," he reiterates, alluding to James O'Donoghue's selfless contribution for Kerry in their Munster final replay against Cork.

"It's a team effort now and people are starting to see the off-the-ball runs that people are doing, whereas ten years ago it was only the lads scoring the points who were getting the glory."

This Sunday, he will face a Fermanagh side that has cut an impressive swathe through the qualifiers, culminating in last weekend's nine-point victory over Westmeath. Yet Fermanagh were promoted from Division Three last spring and the three Leinster teams that Dublin have dispatched by a cumulative 59 points - Longford, Kildare and Westmeath - will all be featuring in the third tier next spring.


As Brogan sees it, Dublin have yet to deliver a "complete performance" this summer. By the same token, he is somewhat bemused by the much-touted suggestion that they struggle against blanket defences, Westmeath's ad-hoc version being the latest.

"I can't see winning the game by 13 points as a struggle," he says.

"It's not as high-scoring, people think we were struggling - but at the end of the day, our mantra is to win the game by one point or more and that's any team's mantra. So, when you win a game by 13 points it's a good victory in my book.

"When a team plays that massed defence, obviously the scores aren't going to be as high because there are so many bodies back on both sides … it's never going to be a 20-30 point win."

He adds: "We went through Leinster before playing man-on-man and came through games by 15 or 20 points - and it hasn't stood to us coming out.

"I think the game against Westmeath was a great challenge. We got over the line and there was huge learnings ... if we come up against that later on in the summer, we will have the learnings of that and we now have a video of us going up against it and how that worked.

"I think it's great to be coming up against it; we got over the line and we will take confidence from that."

Fermanagh next: prepare yourself for another blanket.

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