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Brogan opens door into Dubs

Bernard book gives glimmer of insight of their golden era

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LAST HURRAH: Dublin manager Jim Gavin shakes hands with Bernard Brogan ahead of the All-Ireland SFC final replay against Kerry last September. Pic: Sportsfile

LAST HURRAH: Dublin manager Jim Gavin shakes hands with Bernard Brogan ahead of the All-Ireland SFC final replay against Kerry last September. Pic: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

LAST HURRAH: Dublin manager Jim Gavin shakes hands with Bernard Brogan ahead of the All-Ireland SFC final replay against Kerry last September. Pic: Sportsfile

He might regret it now, given the extent to which it has been pillaged for yarns over the last nine months, but it's 15 years since Dessie Farrell published his autobiography Tangled Up In Blue.

In the decade-and-a-half since, we've had just a light smattering of Dublin GAA books, but few of the same warts 'n all genre.

There was the acclaimed Dub Sub Confidential, John Leonard's memoir; a surprising and unique cocktail of sport and hedonism - but probably more compelling for the latter element than the former.

Philly McMahon's The Choice, another Sports Book of the Year winner, told predominantly the story of a footballer's life rather than his life in football.

More recently again came Jayo, the eponymous, long-overdue tome of Jason Sherlock.

Enter into this very tight literary space, The Hill by Bernard Brogan, published by Reach Sport and ghost written by Kieran Shannon.

Sports autobiographies can be notoriously tedious reads.

And the Oscar Wilde line about a man's face being his autobiography was the fear here: that Brogan's would be carefully presented without blemish.

Indeed, a rough formula for such publications is that the biggest stars tend to write the worst books.

And it's difficult to think of a bigger GAA star than Brogan in his pomp.

In this, however, Brogan's is an outlier. He has, in tandem with Shannon, submitted an interesting, detailed autobiography, deeper, more revealing and self-aware than many had anticipated.

That the narrative arc of the book takes in more of Brogan's last two years; his struggle to make the team or accept his new diminished status in the Dublin squad, makes it a more compelling read than simply detailing his various and numerous Roy Of The Rovers glories.

The already-serialised passages narrating disagreements with both Gavin and Pat Gilroy make for good headlines, but there was little by way of revelation.

Gilroy made no secret of his belief that both Bernard and Alan Brogan had to work harder for their team.

And rumours of Brogan's dissatisfaction with being overlooked by Gavin were never too far from earshot in 2018 and 2019.

Through it all though, Brogan pushes open the door to not only the most high-performing dressing-room in Gaelic games, but also one of the most guarded.

Crumbled

Finally, the great Dublin clichés; Pat Gilroy 'changing the culture', the players 'taking ownership', are made flesh with anecdotes and first-person description.

Take, for example, a team meeting in London prior to the 2011 championship after Dublin had crumbled in the league final to Cork.

Pat Gilroy, in attempting to eradicate Dublin's failure to close out matches, was introducing the players to the idea of "emotional hijacking".

To prove his point, he gave a nod to Philly McMahon, who unbeknownst to anyone else in the room, had been ordered to grab Brogan by the neck from behind.

Brogan's reaction, to grapple McMahon "so I could breathe" was an example of was Gilroy called an "amygdala attack".

"The amygdala, as we'd learn from Pat, is the emotional part of the brain and designed to alert us to potential harm," Brogan writes.

"The downside is it can exaggerate threats. Instead of merely alerted the rational part of your brain…it can override or even bypass it and you're unable to think logically and clearly.

"Whenever we were hit with a sucker-punch - our thinking would become foggy. Lads were overlooking the pass. Not enough of us could properly follow the game plan."

There's another episode in St Clare's - The Bunker - where Jonny Cooper ("the ultimate performance ninja") is doing pull-ups with a 40KG weight attached to his waist.

It might seem a small, inconsequential story but it shines a light on how the squad of which Brogan was a member incessantly drove each other on in everything they did.

Like Brogan, Cooper suffered early rejection in his quest to be a Dublin footballer "but the rocky road hardened him, improved him".

"His eyes are popping out of his head, the veins in his neck are bulging, his teeth are gritted, as he again manages to pull his chin over the bar.

"We're all gathered around him, willing him on. C'mon, c'mon, c'mon! And another one! That's it! And again!

"And when he does complete that third set, it's as if we all did. There might be no cup, no crowd, but it's nights like these and little wins like that which lead to them."