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Wednesday 13 November 2019

2010 ..... the year that set Brogan on road to be a legend

Dublin’s Bernard Brogan lines up a shot against Cork in the 2010 All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park
Dublin’s Bernard Brogan lines up a shot against Cork in the 2010 All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park

You can measure Bernard Brogan's career by any number of metrics: the multiple medals won, the injury-defying longevity, his role in a famous Dublin dynasty, his place in the pantheon of inside assassins.

Yet part of the magic that made him a modern-day legend was the fact that, even when Dublin weren't the unstoppable five-in-a-row force they have become, the middle Brogan brother was that very thing.

Unstoppable.

It's a curious irony that a player who announced his inter-county retirement yesterday, weighed down by seven Celtic Crosses spilling out of his back pocket, would play his most consistently outrageous football in a year when Dublin won nothing.

That was 2010, a year that saw Dublin squeezed out of a league final place despite Brogan producing a last-day masterclass in Omagh.

On that sun-kissed April afternoon he shot 0-8 (2f) as Dublin condemned arch-rivals Tyrone to relegation. Yet it was still not enough: they were pipped by Cork on the head-to-head rule.

Perhaps the one consolation for Brogan was that he finished as top-scorer in Division One with 3-31 (16f) - all this despite spending close to 50 minutes warming the bench for each of the first three rounds.

That same year there was no Leinster medal (for once) courtesy of Meath's five-goal semi-final romp.

Yet the resultant 'back door' campaign was the making not just of Dublin but, you could argue, Brogan as an elite marquee forward.

He shot the lights out against Tipperary, Armagh, Tyrone - and finally Cork when his 1-7, all bar one point from play, was not enough to secure that elusive All-Ireland final place.

Thus, Dublin's trophy cabinet was laid bare in 2010, even though they were a totally different animal to the startled earwig collective that had capitulated to Kerry the previous year. No one more so, perhaps, than their scorer-in-chief.

Brogan had come into that '09 quarter-final as an All Star-elect, only to suffer a thoroughly chastening day in the glue-like company of Tom O'Sullivan.

For the team, this was year zero and Pat Gilroy immediately set about a radical overhaul of structure, personnel - and culture. But it's also fair to surmise that the then-Dublin manager may have used Brogan's own performance against Kerry as a stick to beat him in those early weeks of 2010.

Swanning around

As Brogan himself, in 2012, admitted: "In 2010 the emphasis he put on me changed my game. The days of a full-forward swanning around and trying to kick a few scores and not doing any work are over. Well, they are in our book anyway.

"Pat used to pull me up in training for not working. The pressure he put on me was hard at the time and really developed me as a player."

The player who re-emerged not alone embraced Dublin's savage work ethic but blossomed into arguably the most feared inside finisher in the game.

Medals had to wait but the plaudits quickly followed. At 26 he won the first of his four All Stars in 2010 - and, of course, he was crowned Footballer of the Year.

The All Stars version of this award had been inaugurated in 1995. Brogan became the first player (and, to this day, remains the only one) to have won the ultimate accolade despite not reaching an All-Ireland final - a measure of just how good he was in 2010.

But this is not the retirement story of a one-season wonder. Anything but.

It is the story of a player lucky enough to be born with the DNA of a thoroughbred footballer - no surprise, given that his father Bernard Senior and his older brother Alan are both bona fide Sky Blue legends.

It is also the roller coaster saga of a gifted player who kept on working to become ever more relevant to the cause. A player who battled back from one cruciate injury before he had even become a Dublin senior. And a resilient survivor who overcame the differing setbacks of '09 and '10 to become a first-time All-Ireland champion, at 27, in 2011.

The St Oliver Plunkett's/ER clubman may have been a late bloomer but he quickly set about making up for lost time. What set him apart wasn't merely his accuracy off either foot (more especially his right); or his instinct for seeking the jugular (reflected in his Dublin career haul of 36 goals to go with those 344 points); but also his sublime movement, on and off the ball.

There have been few better at finding that pocket of space in which to pull the trigger.

His peak years were 2010 to 2015. In those six seasons he won his first three All-Ireland medals, all as an indispensable starter, and all four of his All Stars (in 2010, '11, '13 and '15).

This wasn't a journey of unbroken success: there was the pain of 2012 when, presented with the chance of an equalising goal against Mayo, he was denied by David Clarke.

Gilroy stepped down after that semi-final, but his influence has not been forgotten - in yesterday's retirement statement he thanked Pat "for pushing and moulding me into the footballer I always wanted to be".

Brogan also had words of gratitude for his first Dublin boss, Pillar Caffrey, "for taking a chance on me" - and Jim Gavin "for the education and amazing journey we have had over the last number of years".

For several years under Gavin he would remain pivotal - initially as their marksman-in-chief, from play and from frees. Would Dublin have won the 2013 All-Ireland against Mayo but for his critically-timed brace of goals? Unlikely. He finished that day with 2-3 - and his one All-Ireland Man of the Match award.

Dean Rock took over his freetaking duties after Dublin's Donegal meltdown of 2014 and, initially, a suitably unburdened Brogan flourished. While kept relatively quiet in the rain-lashed 2015 final, he still finished the summer with a personal tally of 6-21 - all bar the final point scored from play.

At 31 came his fourth All Star and second Footballer of the Year nomination.

He started the 2016 drawn decider against Mayo; that would be his final All-Ireland start as he gradually slipped down the pecking order, becoming an impact sub at first and then, after his second ACL rupture in early 2018, the defiant comeback kid who battled the injury gods and the selection odds all over again.

Despite a few fleeting cameos, he never fully made it back. But he did make the match-day 26 for Dublin's latest All-Ireland replay.

That, in itself, is a fitting testament to a player whose legend will endure, even beyond yesterday's final curtain.

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