Young guns will drive us on - Brogan
PRESSURE? What pressure! Such is life when you're a Dublin senior footballer.
For years, Alan Brogan and his long-suffering colleagues in Blue sweated blood and tears in pursuit of Sam. It usually ended in tears, occasionally even jeers.
But Dublin kept bouncing back, kept making it back to August -- or rather back for more punishment, the sceptics surmised -- until something happened last year. They made it to September. And then something special happened. They beat Kerry on the biggest day of all.
The big question now is how Dublin will react to their gloriously altered circumstances. Will the relief of finally reaching their All-Ireland destination take the pressure off? And if so, is that even a good thing?
Alan Brogan, reigning Footballer of the Year, cannot answer that conundrum right now but he's looking forward to discovering the answer.
"It probably was hanging over us for a number of years," he admits, quickly adding that he still doesn't know if that "pressure" to win Sam was a help or hindrance to performance.
"I'm sure it's something we will discuss at some stage and I'm sure it's something Pat (Gilroy) has thought about as well. To have that weight on our shoulders -- was that helping us to perform or was it a noose around our neck? It's hard to tell at the moment.
"We'll find out in the next few months. I'd like to think that maybe it's a weight off our shoulders and we can go on and express ourselves a little bit more without that fear of losing. But maybe that fear of losing drives you on more."
Brogan was speaking at the launch of Setanta's GAA coverage for 2012, an early-season highlight which will include live coverage of the Allianz League opener between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park on Saturday week.
A Sky Blue mainstay since 2002, Brogan was initially ruled out of the Kerry game with a knee injury, but the player plans to resume county training next Tuesday night and has declared himself available for selection if required.
He insists that last year's All-Ireland final will have little relevance on this looming rematch, with both sides merely seeking a good performance. And he's amused by the notion that Dublin, as champions, are now under pressure to prove themselves all over again - not just as a good team, to paraphrase a certain Mr Dunphy, but a great one.
"All the talk for years was: 'Would Dublin win an All-Ireland?' Then you win one and people are talking: 'Well, they have to win two now'," he added.
"We just have to play it like we have done over the last few years, take each game as it comes, just try and get our performances right and hope that leads to where we want to go."
He expanded: "It's a young enough team. Three or four years ago there was a lot of guys at a similar age, whereas in the last couple of years there's a lot of younger guys after coming in. Those guys are hungry for success - the likes of Michael Darragh Macauley, Michael Fitzsimons.
"I think they're the guys that will drive it on over the next few years. It won't be the likes of myself, Stephen (Cluxton), Barry Cahill -- it will be the younger fellas. I think if that happens, then we have a great chance of going on to better things."
And, echoing some recent comments from his manager, he spies scope for improvement even in Dublin's finest All-Ireland hour.
"We played very well against Tyrone," he says, harking back to last year's quarter-final, the most complete Dublin performance of the noughties.
"Obviously, it's very difficult to keep that level of performance up over the course of a few games but, I suppose, when you're striving for perfection, that's what you're looking for."
Recalling the semi-final, he cites mitigating circumstances to explain why Dublin struggled for so long to penetrate Donegal's ultra-defensive blanket. "If we come up against it again, we will be able to deal with it much better," Brogan insists.
"We were better in the second half of that game but in the first half we just didn't know how to deal with it and were caught by surprise. I wouldn't think that would happen to us or any of the top teams again, where we'd be completely flabbergasted by someone putting 14 men behind the ball."
And the final? "We lost eight points to one in one section of that game," he points out.
"On another day, that match would have been over. Just for the grace of God looking down on us, and Kevin McManamon managing to pull it out of the bag ... certainly in the Kerry match there were lots of things we could improve on, lots for us to look at going into this year."
Who says it's all downhill from the summit?