Bernard fans Dubs flames
SATURDAY night was all about Bernard Brogan.
Because if Dublin's strong form and 100 per cent league record through the transitional stage of Jim Gavin's reign is a cause for optimism for the Sky Blue faithful, then the form of their virtuoso forward is reason enough to get excited.
In the pantheon of Bernard Brogan performances, Saturday night's (even allowing for the relative insignificance of the occasion) surely stands atop. It has been said that his 2008 county final replay masterclass would take some beating but now, after a 1-10 haul in a 70-minute exhibition of the full extent of his genius, there is a contender worthy of such billing.
That Dublin won, beating their September nemesis Mayo by 2-14 to 0-16, getting one step nearer to securing a league semi-final place, almost seemed like the subplot.
Brogan's class and confidence, surely, was the theme of the evening, a recurring one so far this year.
By half-time, his fingerprints were all over every one of his team's scores.
Dublin kicked 1-8 to Mayo's 0-8, Brogan donating 1-6 and picking out Paddy Andrews and Cian O'Sullivan for the other two. Of his four frees, Brogan himself was the player fouled on three occasions and even played the last-but-one pass, a one-two with Paul Flynn, for his 33rd-minute goal.
Incredibly, it got better.
Brogan kicked another four points in the second half, could have had one of the scores of the season after wriggling free of two Mayo defenders before hitting the upright whilst kicking from a difficult vantage point yet his pièce de résistance, undoubtedly, was the 58th-minute sideline he kicked with the outside of his right boot, one of the best scores seen in Croke Park in a long time.
Only a few players in every generation have the skill to pull that particular trick off and, notably, Brogan had the confidence to do it too on Saturday night.
Typically, neither Brogan's own manager or indeed Mayo's were particularly effusive in their praise ... but then, that's what managers do nowadays.
"He's finishing well but behind him a lot of the hard work is being done," said Jim Gavin, widening the target of his approval. "The backs are transferring the ball quickly to him, he's got into good positions. It was good to see Bernard finishing the scores."
James Horan saw Brogan's effectiveness through red and green tinted glasses, but spared his full-back Ger Cafferkey in the distribution of blame. "When you have a player the calibre of Bernard Brogan but when you give the guys kicking in the ball, particularly in the first half, the amount of time that they had, yourself could put in a pass and he's going to score it, so that's where it came from."
And as Gavin pointed out, it can be hard to judge individual performances at a time of year when different teams' training is geared towards different goals.
The sight of Kevin McManamon dancing around Keith Higgins for Dublin's second goal in the 50th minute was a sign, surely, both of the St Jude's man increased fitness and Mayo's lack of sharpness. But mainly, it was all positive for Dublin, particularly after playing the final 30 minutes of the match with 14 men following Ger Brennan's red card.
"The guys showed great heart and resolve and commitment to themselves, so it was very satisfying to come away with a win," reckoned Gavin.
At that stage, Mayo led by a point and Dublin even spurned a penalty when Kenneth O'Malley saved from Stephen Cluxton but it was one of those second halves from Mayo where, had they been inclined to kick themselves for the amount of wasted scoring chances, they'd have missed.
Ciarán Kilkenny made his league debut and grafted well, although the case for playing him closer to goal is surely more compelling.
"He's very effective in front of goal and he's very effective further out the field as well," Gavin reasoned. "He played some very accurate balls into the full-forward line in the first half. He's such a good footballer he can play in either line."
Similarly, Dublin's defence played their men on their merits and conceded few real goal chances but such is the nature of their system – or at least, the current progress of it – any time one of their backs were turned by a Mayo forward, the cavalry was either slow to arrive or non-existent.
In midfield, Dublin struggled to establish and maintain a platform until the game got looser and Mayo withdrew their starting pairing of Barry Moran and Jason Gibbons but with Paul Flynn lurking, they – as Horan put it – "ate us on breaking ball".
"It's slowly getting there," added Gavin afterwards. "We're just three games down and we've four to go. We're not even halfway through the National League yet so, a long road ahead of us and this is only the start."