Friday 15 December 2017

This one is like a final for us

Brogan admits Dublin will be wary ahead of Rebel showdown

Bernard Brogan, Dublin in action against Graham Reilly, Meath. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Bernard Brogan, Dublin in action against Graham Reilly, Meath. Picture: Caroline Quinn

BERNARD BROGAN knows all about the slings and arrows of outrageous August fortune. Or even misfortune.

And that's why the 2010 Footballer of the Year is treading warily on the cusp of Dublin's latest arrival at the All-Ireland quarter-final watershed.

Brogan recalls a time when Dublin may have been lulled into thinking they were "better than we were", having come through Leinster "handily enough, winning games by 10 or 15 points".

"And you come into a quarter-final series then and you are built up to be All-Ireland favourites and this and that – and it never really worked for us.

"So, I think over the last couple of years we looked back and said, 'Lads, we are not world beaters and if we want to win anything we are going to have to work harder than the team out there."

A lesson well learned, especially in 2010 and '11 when Dublin overcame their one-time Tyrone nemesis. And yet as Saturday night looms into Croke Park view, historic precedent is warning Jim Gavin's men to be on their guard.

This year, Dublin will face another former champion allegedly stuck in a rut. For Tyrone in '08, Kerry in '09, read Cork '13.

The buoyant Blues aren't just warm favourites to advance beyond Saturday night; they're the bookies' choice for Sam. And maybe that explains why Brogan, forewarned by his own mixed memories of this last-eight fixture, is preaching caution.

His first quarter-final was against Derry in 2007. So far, so straight-forward: Dublin won by three points without setting the world alight.

A year later, he was coming back from a hamstring injury and started on the bench against Tyrone. Within minutes, he was summoned to the fray after his brother Alan hobbled off and was one of very few Dubs to emerge in any credit from a chastening 12-point rout that brought painful closure on the 'Pillar' Caffrey era.

And then, in 2009, with Pat Gilroy now in charge, Brogan was an All-Star elect before that fateful August Bank Holiday Monday when Tom O'Sullivan snuffed him out and Kerry went into a score-frenzy at the other end.

All of which explains why Dublin have adopted a new mindset in recent years. According to Brogan, they are now "looking at the All-Ireland quarter-final as our All-Ireland final". The aim is to "give it everything on the pitch whereas, in the years before, lads might have had eyes on All-Ireland final day – and talk of big days".



"That's something Pat (Gilroy) started, this step-by-step routine. It's a journey of six games if we win them all; take one game at a time and that's what we've done. It's just about getting the head right for that game."

A trawl of the record books confirms the compelling wisdom of this argument. In the first 12 seasons of the qualifier era, Dublin reached 11 quarter-finals, but only advanced to six semis. Their five defeats have come against Kerry three times ('01 after a replay, '04 and '09) and Tyrone twice ('05 after another replay and '08).

In eight of those 11 years, Dublin marched into August as Leinster champions ... and three times they fell at the first All-Ireland fence.

"At the end of the day it's knockout now," Brogan reflects, "and if you take your eye off the ball at all, you are out on your ass."

Yet again, as Leinster champions for the seventh time in eight summers, they've had three weeks to prepare for the quarters, but only one week to focus in on Cork. At least, with this familiar foe, there are very few secrets.

But as Brogan explains: "Management might be able to try different things (in Leinster), try different personnel and stuff – but come the quarter-final day it's do-or-die. You have two weeks of training to prepare and you only find out (who you are playing) the week before. It's a very difficult game to get your head around and that's probably what caught us in years gone by.

"But I think we have a good system there and some good lads who have been through it," he adds. "Clucko (skipper Stephen Cluxton) is well able to tell lads what happened and why we didn't perform before, so we have that experience that we can rely on."

The team itself has changed demonstrably under Gavin – just nine of their Leinster final XV against Meath started the 2011 All-Ireland final under Gilroy – but other key survivors from two years ago are still involved and still chomping at the bit.

"Denis (Bastick) came on the last day and he was an animal. He was running around the place like a blue-arsed fly," Brogan enthuses. "He's eager to impress and he played really well.

"At the end of the day, these lads have been there and done it. They've the experience and it's about getting the balance right – lads with experience and lads with youth, talent and exuberance.



"Cully (Bryan Cullen) has been playing well," he continues, "and Bastick's really knocking on the door in midfield ... that's what you need in the panel.

"The likes of Kevin McManamon is his own worst enemy because he's so good at coming off the bench. He's the right man to bring on though, because when teams are tired he comes on and runs at you. As I've said before, the competition is unbelievable and the bench – you can't take your eye off it.

"But at the end of the day, it's all about the team and we're happy with whoever is on the pitch as long as you win the game."

And that game is Cork this Saturday. Dublin's All-Ireland final.

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