Wednesday 26 October 2016

Brogan facing a fight this summer

Brogan acutely aware of the growing competition for a starting spot in the Dublin attack this summer as he sets sights on a fourth medal

Dublin’s Bernard Brogan gets his shot away as Donegal’s Ryan McHugh closes in during the Allianz FL Division 1 semi-final Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Bernard Brogan gets his shot away as Donegal’s Ryan McHugh closes in during the Allianz FL Division 1 semi-final Photo: Sportsfile
Cormac Costello and Eoghan O’Gara are two of many Dublin forwards in competition for starting slots ahead of his summer’s action. Photo: Sportsfile

At 32, Bernard Brogan should be glancing distractedly in his wing mirrors at the stampede of talented inside forwards with a scent for his starter's jersey.

"There was a while there where it didn't seem as though Dublin had too many options in the inside line and I didn't mind talking too much about competition," he recalled this week in conversation with the Herald.

"But now, it's on my doorstep."

Kicking in his door, more like.

Before, Brogan was being necessarily diplomatic when he read the script about the competition for places in his part of the pitch.

Dublin, it was noted in more blunt conversations with a solemn shake of the head, didn't produce 'natural' forwards.

There will come a time that simply being Bernard Brogan will no longer suffice but even with Paddy Andrews, Dean Rock, Cormac Costello, Paul Mannion, Kevin McManamon, Eoghan O'Gara, Con O'Callaghan and Conor McHugh all crushing towards those Dublin shirts numbered 13 to 15, you'd still bank on Brogan wearing one come summer, all things being equal.


"That's what keeps you on your toes," he shrugs.

"There's a lot of young lads there and there are eight or nine lads who can play any given Sunday in the inside line.

"Seven or eight of them have played this year and you have O'Gara coming back, showing form after the injury.

"It's a massively competitive line. That means you're going to have to be on your game. That's the challenge.

"Just because I've played for the last number of years, that doesn't guarantee me anything," he stresses.

Which is the mantra all footballers trot out, even those as central to their team's good health as Brogan has been to Dublin's this last decade but he only has to look at Michael Darragh Macauley's truncated involvement in 2015 as a sign that his current manager doesn't do favourites or select on past glories.

"Jim would be just as happy to play a lad like Conor McHugh or Con O'Callaghan as he would me," Brogan confirms.

"So you can't rest on your laurels. There's always someone knocking on your door. That's why the league is important.

"I got a chance to play last weekend and I played reasonably well and I hope that shows Jim some form going into the league final, but it's not a guaranteed start for me."

Brogan's gig is a little different now than it used be, too.

In 2010, the job was to shoot the lights clean out and little else.

Last year, he came closest to matching that glitzy season for consistent effectiveness though with an altered terms of reference.

"Where once, I would have said that that (scoring) is the indicator and nothing else.

"Now, the game has become so dynamic and there's so many ways of breaking down defences that being a link player or the one at the top of a pivot are just as important jobs as getting scores.

"That's genuine," Brogan insists. "So that's what we're measured on."

He may be 32 and getting on in footballing terms then but Brogan is also less hindered by those troublesome groin injuries.

"Top of the pops," as he puts it. "I feel as good as have in three or four years."

"A couple of years ago," he recalls, "I played something like 13 weeks in-a-row. I was playing Interprovincial matches in the break weeks in between league matches.

"I just did too much. You have to be smart. And in fairness to Dublin, they manage the load very well, between training and games and everything else.


"Everything is managed. If players play too much, you just sit out. Injury is the last thing you want to happen. The medical team are very good at spotting those things."

Which puts him in a strong position to show his summer intentions with a strong performance against Kerry in Sunday's Allianz FL Division 1 final, though that's not the ultimate indicator in his experience.

"I think the team is sort of picked in that four-to-six week run in to the Championship, where there's three or four 15 versus 15 games," Brogan outlines.

"Over three games, lads start to show a bit of form and Jim and the management team start to get their eye on who's going well. Obviously they have their own ideas and their own opinion on players.

"But I think the cementing of the team, especially for the first game, is done in that four weeks.

"The league final and those sorts of games are great indicators of where fellas are at.

"But there is so much time to go to the first game … like, there's even club championship to play … so once those internal matches take place, the rest will be forgotten."

Impressively, Brogan's only loss in a major final for Dublin was in the 2011 league decider against Cork where he limped off with an injury and his team collapsed to Cork.

Otherwise, he has been involved in three All-Ireland finals, seven Leinsters and three consecutive League deciders and won them all.

"What's worked for us is taking each game in isolation and not thinking about them as finals or semi-finals or rivalries or whatever," he says. "Like, It's an unbelievable game.

"The Dublin/Kerry thing …there's always a bit of a buzz. And it's always nice playing Kerry but it's no different from other times.

"Getting those victories is massively important and the way we've done that is by focusing on the game and how we prepare ourselves.


"If we perform well and we do the things we want to do, usually we're on the right end of the result.

"We've had loads of years where we struggled and we were nowhere near a league final," Brogan points out. We changed our mentality.

"If you start thinking about four in-a-row or big wins or All-Ireland finals, that's what we've learned doesn't work."

All well and good but Dublin's success has always tasted sweeter for them when it's been swiped directly off Kerry's plate - 2011 being the most delicious example.

That win was, Brogan concedes, "a different animal".

"It was nearly relief rather than joy. We never thought we'd get there.

"The first is always your favourite. It's always the biggest because it had been so long for Dublin, it was always going to be a special one.

"But we're footballers. We're athletes. We're competitive. We want to win. So you go on and try and win again.

"But if you focus too much on it and say 'I have to win again' or 'we have to win this amount of All-Irelands' it doesn't work.

'You have to just break it down," Brogan adds.

"Start again and do the simple things right," concludes the St Oliver Plunkett's man.

NFL division 1 final: Dublin v Kerry, live tg4 (Sunday, 3.30)

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