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Tuesday 19 November 2019

For all the threat he carried, Brogan had the composure and vision to make it count

Bernard Brogan had incredible predatory instincts
Bernard Brogan had incredible predatory instincts

Bernard Brogan had many glitzy performances in Croke Park. But in this opinion, the Saturday night he ransacked Mayo in a March 2013 league match was as close to perfection as he could have got.

He amassed 1-10, but it was how that return was delivered that stood out. Using an array of different skills, there was a brilliant goal off his left foot, a punched point from an aerial contest, another punched point on the run, flawless free-taking and, for good measure, a sideline off the outside of his right boot, the type of score that has carried Maurice Fitzgerald's trademark for the last two decades. But Brogan could do it too.

For three of the five frees he scored he was fouled himself, for two more Dublin points he provided assists. They scored 2-14 that night to win by four and Brogan had a direct involvement in 1-12.

That night in Croke Park felt like a peak, even if there had been some wondrous performances three years earlier when he was crowned Footballer of the Year, despite not playing in the All-Ireland final, the only time that has happened.

His retirement was wholly expected considering the peripheral role he played over the last two years as he recovered from a cruciate ligament injury in early 2018.

But for all the show-and-go that oozed from Brogan on those stellar days - his movement across the front line was ceaseless - there was an innate capacity to think his way through games too.

Never was that more evident than when Dublin found themselves knee-deep in the quagmire of that 2011 All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal.

When most of those around him were losing their composure and sinking in the treacle of oppressive Donegal pressure and defence, Brogan kept his impressively as their point of attack.

The 0-8 to 0-6 scoreline remains etched in the mind but from Dublin's eight points, Brogan had a direct link to six, winning the free for each of the four he converted in between assists for Kevin McManamon, a deft overhead touch with the hand, and Bryan Cullen, a left-footed pass across the goalmouth to take out three defenders.

On a day when Dublin players dropped kicks short and wide with alarming regularity and even fisted balls out over the sideline as the pressure mounted, Brogan's leadership was pivotal to Dublin's emergence from the maze.

Only 18 months earlier he sat out the start of Dublin's first three league matches, playing a little over 60 minutes as Pat Gilroy's tough love aimed to extract more industry from the forward.

It worked, too, because in the next five games he started he scored 3-31, 3-15 from play, and became a far more rounded player.

Where does he stand in the pantheon of great Dublin inside forwards? In modern times the county hasn't had better, although Con O'Callaghan's opening four years suggest he'll catapult to the front of that list sooner rather than later.

In this view, the younger Brogan brought more threat to defences than his older sibling Alan, who had a more methodical style.

Reaching back further, he brought more menace than any of the 1983 or 1995 All-Ireland winners, and while Jimmy Keaveney's impact on his return in 1974 was profoundly felt in the years that followed, the currency of goals sits Bernard Brogan into the most illustrious capital company quite comfortably. He had the sharpest predatory instincts.

The manager who introduced him to inter-county football in 2006, Paul Caffrey, offered the view that Brogan was the "catalyst" for Dublin developing from a highly competitive team under him to breaking through under Pat Gilroy.

In recent deliberations on a 'team of the decade' his position wasn't in doubt by any reckoning, given his individual performances and impact on Dublin between 2010 and 2015 when he was at his peak.

His imprint on the five-in-a-row has been much less felt. He didn't start any of the last five finals, including this year's replay, having lost his place after the drawn 2016 decider, the last time he started a championship game.

Dean Rock, Paul Mannion and latterly O'Callaghan have played much bigger roles, although Brogan was still short-listed for Footballer of the Year in 2015.

The last two years have been challenging. There was a personal feel to his rehabilitation from his cruciate injury. At the end of it, one last blinding from the lights appealed. But he never got it.

The other side to Brogan has been his marketability on the back of his playing career. In that respect, he is arguably the most successful GAA player in terms of exposure, with strong product connection to such brands as Supervalu, AIG, King Crisps, Lenovo, Volkswagen and Littlewoods, on top of the establishment of a public relations and sponsorship company.

A player always thinking of the next move, on and off the field.

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