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Tuesday 14 August 2018

If I get game time with Dublin again it will be the sweetest I've had ...

Brogan still hoping to be back in Sky Blue by early August

ON THE MEND: Dublin footballer Bernard Brogan at Croke Park for the launch of SuperValu’s #BehindTheBall campaign – an ambitious initiative tackling the lack of exercise among Ireland’s families. For details see www.facebook.com/SuperValuIRL or SuperValu.ie
Pic: Inpho
ON THE MEND: Dublin footballer Bernard Brogan at Croke Park for the launch of SuperValu’s #BehindTheBall campaign – an ambitious initiative tackling the lack of exercise among Ireland’s families. For details see www.facebook.com/SuperValuIRL or SuperValu.ie Pic: Inpho

Bernard Brogan has read the doomsday headlines. "Veteran forward tears cruciate" ... "Dublin dream over for former Footballer of the Year" ... "Thanks for the memories".

Except none of this tallied with what Brogan himself was thinking in late February, resting his swollen left knee in the wake of surgery to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.

"That gives me energy, I love that," he says of being 'retired' by others.

"You look at Andy Moran winning the Player of the Year last year and that shows that age is not the only factor in performance on the football pitch.

"There are loads of different aspects to the game - a bit of guile, a bit of experience, there are loads of ways that you can add to something."

One difference: Brogan may be a similar vintage to Mayo's Peter Pan, but first he had a career-threatening injury to overcome - the second ACL rupture of his career, some 15 years after his first, this one affecting his 'good' left knee.

He turned 34 in April and had already lost his guaranteed starter status. Thus, even if his rehab went smoothly, why would Jim Gavin still have a place, in 2019, for a player fast approaching his 35th birthday?

But this winner of five Celtic Crosses and four All Stars wasn't thinking of next year, he was thinking of early August. And that's still his thinking.

"Obviously time is not my friend on this one, so everything has to go really well and I'm actually ahead of schedule. So if it keeps going the way it's going, I'm still aiming for August. That's my carrot, that's my goal," he confirms, speaking at SuperValu's launch of its #BehindTheBall campaign yesterday.

It's still a long shot, but that won't stop him trying everything in the book to hasten his recovery.

"I'm three-and-a-half months since the operation. The really tough grunt work is done," he says.

"I'm back in the gym. The ACL is a lonely recovery, it's a lot of work in the gym, a lot of individual stuff, it's repetitive, it's slow progress. The first four to six weeks were very slow. But definitely now I'm seeing some positivity, I'm getting some energy from it.

"I'm back on my feet. I'm doing a lot of weights and I can see the sun between the trees. I'm hoping in the next three or four weeks to be running on the pitch beside the lads, and that will be another big milestone.

"I've started jogging, I'm back on my feet. I'm kicking a bit of ball around, just getting back used to it.

"I'm doing all these little things that will help me down the road. Doing things like visualisation … any kind of angle I can get to reduce the time at the far end when I come back to it.

"There's some good research on mindset and visualising the movements that you're going to do on the pitch - the pivots, the turns - because with the ACL there's a high potential for recurrence and your confidence to do some of the movements is down. So anything that will help."

Physio James Allen has worked with many stricken stars in the Leinster and Irish rugby firmament, and this offers further encouragement.

Six months is often cited as a minimum lay-off after cruciate surgery, and early August would be just shy of that, but Brogan cites the example of Fergus McFadden, who returned to a Leinster jersey after just four-and-a-half months.

Determined

Back in February, ACL protocols were the last thing on Brogan's mind. He had foregone the Dublin team holiday because he was determined to work even harder to prove he could still cut it as a Sky Blue starter.

He duly started their first league game against Kildare, and was all sharp movement and soft hands, brilliantly assisting for a brace of goals.

Then, on the Thursday night before round three, while training under the Innisfails lights, disaster struck.

"I was in the best shape I've been early in the year. My body mass was down, everything was going well. I was pushing myself - maybe that was part of why I broke down. But it was an innocuous Thursday night before the Donegal game. The team had been named, I was No 15, I was on the frees," he recalls, adding: "I think Dean (Rock) was having a rest.

"It was just everything I wanted, to get that opportunity to get out there and play. And then build on that momentum throughout the league.

"And I just caught a ball, lost it in the floodlight and tried to read it - just the body landed awkwardly and rolled the knee."

Part of him still hoped against hope that he might be okay for that Saturday night. A Friday morning MRI confirmed otherwise.

But Brogan is "a positive person" and that remains his default setting.

"If August comes and goes and it's not right, I'll know," he says.

But that wouldn't spell the end, either. In a strange way, wrecking his knee might lessen his chances of retiring this autumn because his "only ambition" as a footballer is to play for Dublin again.

To get back this year would be "very sweet," he concludes. "Because it's been taken away and I've been written off. That's fine, I love those challenges.

"I'm not even thinking about the All-Ireland ... if I get game time with Dublin again, it will be the sweetest game time I've ever had."

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