WHEN BERNARD BROGAN felt his cruciate pop during a shoot-around at Dublin training in February 2018, he’d have been forgiven for writing off the remainder of the season.
The veteran forward had featured prominently for Dublin in the opening rounds of last year’s league campaign. A couple of weeks earlier he scored a point and laid on two goals in a seven-point win over Kildare.
He went into 2018 believing it would be his final year as a Dublin player and looked primed to reclaim his starting place. Then disaster struck.
“Last year was tough,” he says. “I was getting ready for a big year and then the injury happened.”
The scans confirmed a full tear of the ACL and Brogan immediately started making plans for his comeback. He considered avoiding surgery and rehabbing his way back to fitness, but that path was fraught with danger.
“I did a lot of research into it and I was thinking about it. I talked to a few good physios about it and they said that there are only a handful of people that survived not getting the surgery.”
The ‘impact’ nature of his injury meant the surgical route was his best option. Michael Darragh Macauley suffered a similar problem with his knee but didn’t go under the knife because of how it came about, Brogan explains.
“It wasn’t an ‘incident’ (with Macauley) but any time there was an incident the person has broken down (after skipping surgery),” he says.
“I twisted my knee and it rolled and I was like, ‘Oh god I’m injured’. I went and got a scan and whereas Michael Darragh after a session was like, ‘My leg is sore’ and then trained and played the next day, then trained and played. Eventually, he was like, ‘Do you know what? My knee is a bit sore, I need a scan’.
“The research was saying to get it done. I met a load of people and all the smart people were saying get it done,” he says.
So Brogan underwent surgery and immediately targeted a comeback by late summer.
Most professional athletes take around nine months to recover from ACL reconstruction, but Brogan made his competitive return to the field against Roscommon in the Super 8s – just 23 weeks post-surgery.
Bernard Brogan before Dublin played Tyrone in the league.
Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO
He admits such a quick comeback had its risks, but he had nothing to lose.
“I didn’t think there would be a next year to be honest with you. I literally had the calendar out and I was counting the days through rehab and then I was finding out who has done it, who has done it the quickest and looking internationally to see how many days it took them.
“Then I found out Dan Carter went through it in Santry (Sports Clinic) with me, Josh van der Flier had done his operation the same day as me so I was tracking his recovery and looking what he was doing.
“He didn’t have to get back until September when Leinster were back on so I had all that knocking around my head but I said I had five-and-a-half months until the Roscommon game in the Super 8s. Where I can add value is the Super 8s and that’s where I could potentially add value.
“Those five-and-a-half months were a reasonable time but when I look back I felt like I was 100% for the Roscommon game and then in the semi-final and final I didn’t play in them but I felt like I was 100%.
“I was probably 90% as I was still carrying a bit of limp. I was able to run and my speed was fine, my endurance was fine, my fitness testing was good but the body just wasn’t 100%.”
A return in 23 weeks is an astounding achievement for a sportsman, not least an amateur player with several business interests and a young family at home. Even Jim Gavin sounded caution when he was asked about Brogan’s ability to return inside six months.
“I’ve no doubt we’ll see Bernard back playing again,” the Dublin boss said in March 2018. “But whether that’s in the Dublin jersey this year, we don’t know.”
Brogan makes his comeback from a torn ACL against Roscommon.
Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO
Asked if he returned in record time, Brogan says: “For anyone I know I did, yeah. To play a competitive game. People say it was silly but do you know what? I’ve nothing to lose if I go out.
“I didn’t play a full game, I only came on as a blood sub for five minutes or 10 minutes so I felt like I could have played a bit longer but I didn’t have to put it under a massive strain, so I didn’t come back and play a final for 70 minutes, do you know what I mean?
“I did everything right, did everything I could. Minded the diet, minded the training, did a lot of bike work, I nearly worked on it every day but it was a tough slog. The cruciate is a tough one.”
After his brief cameo against the Rossies, Brogan didn’t log any more minutes in the championship. That was a major frustration. Following discussions with Gavin over the winter, he opted to throw his lot in for one final push in 2019.
“The easy thing would have been to retire and there’s no harm in knowing you put in a great shift but it’s just that hunger for it,” he explains.
“It’s been a personal journey for me this year. I just feel like I have one last drive left.
“I took the whole winter off, I met Jim in early November and we had a good honest chat.
“He portrayed that he felt I could still add something. I said I felt I could add something to the group. And then I went after it.
“I stayed off the grass but I was in the gym most mornings in December. I took an easy Christmas and then came in January and trained really hard all the way with the lads. I would’ve liked a little bit more game-time in the National League but the way it went it was hugely competitive and didn’t have any freebies.
“Jim had to put the best team out every time. That knocked me back a little bit, I would have loved more time. But now I’m back, training away and pushing. I was chatting Jim this morning and I was saying I want in for the next day, I want to be on the 26. We’re going to have football on Sunday and we’re training tonight.
Dublin boss Jim Gavin.
Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO
“He says he’ll give me the opportunity and that’s all you can ask. He says if he feels that I’m in the pecking order then I’m in. It’s up to me to prove it. Sport is amazing that one opportunity or one ten minutes of good play as a forward and you’ve changed people’s mindsets. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
He’s asked where the drive is coming from to return for another year. Brogan has done it all in the game: won Footballer of the Year, six All-Irelands, four All-Stars – too many honours to list.
Where is that fire coming from?
“It’s just Dublin GAA, being a fan, and loving every bit of it,” he replies. “The energy you get when you burst onto the pitch or when you’re even involved in Croke Park. The atmosphere around it.
“My family is bred in it obviously with my dad, and it’s all I know and I love it.
“I’ve always said that I’ll stay around until I feel like I can’t add any more value or I’m told I can’t add any more value. I never believed that the right way to go was, ‘Now is a good time, I’m actually at the top of the hill, I should ride out into the sunset’.
“I would prefer to be carried out on my shield having given everything and be able to say, ‘You know what, thanks a million, that’s my shift done’.
“That’s what I’m doing and I believe I can still add value and that’s why I’m here. I sat with Jim and he believes there’s a potential role there so that’s good enough for me. All I want to do is play for Dublin and be involved, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
“It’s no different because I’ve done it so many times. The hunger doesn’t die, you know.”
He’s visibly shipped a significant amount of weight since last year. Brogan hopes being lighter on his feet will help him when it comes to making an impact during the championship.
Brogan during his one league appearance of 2019 against Cavan.
Source: Declan Roughan/INPHO
He understands his chance will probably come off the bench and he’s determined to make it count.
“For now it’s about how can I add value for 10 minutes if I get a chance so I need to be super fit.
“I need to have endurance so that at the end of a game what do you want to do? Do you want to be able to take your chances really well when you get them and do you want to be able to get by people and burn people who may be tired markers? Look what Kevin Mac (McManamon) has done for Dublin over the years.
“Massive energy, fitness and pace to burn lads in games and get by them to create an opportunity, so I’m looking at that opportunity, that 10 or 15 minutes that I may hopefully get at some stage, how can I be the best that I can be for that stage?
“So actually, last year if I was playing a game, you’d carb load, you build up and I’d be kind of 86kg coming into it in good nick, 100% carb loaded going into a match.
“Now, I’m about 82kg so about 4kg lighter, carbed up ready and fit and ready to go for a match. So that just means I have four less bags of sugar to carry around with me.
“I want to be super sharp then on the strikes, so I’m just practising kicking on the run, kicking on the run making sure I’m striking it really well so that I am building myself to be a 15/20 minute man and then if I do that well, if I get an opportunity to play, great.
“But I am trying to build so that I can add value for that one incident do you know what I mean? I’m not trying to build to be a 70-minute man because that’s not what I am going to be.
“So, just a different way of looking at things, just trying to get myself into the role that potentially I would be able to offer instead of saying I am going to carb load or I’m going to time myself in a game to have the energy for 50 minutes to peak.
“My diet and everything, for 20 minutes I’m going to burn 20 minutes worth of energy in my body for a game.
“All those little things that might just make me be good if I get that chance. That’s what I am telling Jim anyway so I hope he’s listening.”
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