Posted by Ewan MacKenna

Dublin have yet to show the same desire as they did last year but go into the Leinster final knowing they need to make big improvements

2010 Brogan Meath 520x280

Back in 2007 as Dublin again cruised through Leinster and onto the AllIreland semi-final, combining their considerable talents with Paul Caffrey’s box of tricks and dark arts, a phone call to Alan Brogan went as follows.

“So you are free for that interview at two?”
“Yeah, that sounds good.”
“And your Dad is about as well?
“He sure is.”

“What about Bernard jnr. Any chance he’d sit down with you two and I
could do a piece with the family so to speak?”
“To be honest, he’s young and inexperienced and I’m just trying to
shield him from all of that at the minute. He might do stuff down the
line but right now it’s too soon.”

As it turned out, it was too soon for that team as well and at the time it seemed they’d never win it out. They blew up with their best chance to beat Kerry before them a few days later and this was a side still reeking of insecurity and arrogance. Indeed in that year’s Leinster final, Alan Brogan had celebrated in Laois players’ faces at the final whistle. Others took a similarly dim view of Dublin’s chances even if they hid their thoughts behind jest. Marc Ó Sé used to slag Alan about only seeing Croke Park because they played in the Leinster championship and Tadhg Kennelly joked about it when he went to Australia as far back as 2003.

The two had known each other as kids and Kennelly had kept an eye on his progress. Over a beer in a Sydney bar he told Alan he’d better hurry up and win an All Ireland because he planned to return to Kerry one day and that would be the end of it. Eight years on and Kennelly had come and gone with his All Ireland medal.

But it showed a patience and maturity to Alan Brogan that in 2011 he finally got his medal and in a far less obvious way, he is still fitting perfectly into the role of big brother. Few notice it amongst all his scoring feats but Bernard is hugely reliant on Alan as is this entire Dublin team. Alan doesn’t score as much as he once did but without him they would crumble like a concertina and when playing a fast-break game with massed defence there is no player more important than the link man. On top of that, after Declan O’Sullivan’s form fell away and Marty Clarke simply went away, Alan Brogan has turned into the best link man there is in the game. His vision and distribution is matched by none right now.

There is a strong argument to be made that he is the most important player in football at the minute, but if he’s got here after hard work and after a long climb, then he and his team now face a new mountain. Earlier this season, on this very site, Mickey Harte spoke about the difficulty of going back-to-back. He talked about how you can get caught up in the glory for too long and unintentionally forget what it took to win the first one.

If anything, Dublin until now have largely looked that way. Their league was poor, the game against Wexford was worse and so many of the traits that have gotten them this far were absent across recent months. The defence hasn’t hassled and harried, covering each other’s flaws with numbers like a year ago, the midfield is unsure of its best men and of its role while Diarmuid Connolly’s behaviour all season long has been irresponsible.

But there are positives too. As relatively bad as they have been at times, they didn’t get relegated and didn’t get beaten in Leinster. In fact that Wexford game couldn’t have gone any better in some respects as there is no way they could have continued to go through the motions after it. It was a serious wake-up call without defeat. Kevin McManamon’s evolution and starting chance has seen them turn into one of if not the best forward unit in the nation. And before them this weekend they have Meath to inspire before what is likely to be the wait for a last eight game against a team with momentum and form.

Given everything that’s happened over last decade and this year, there’s Alan Brogan too who should remind them all how long it took to get to the top and how hard it’s going to be to stay there. When we finally sat down without Bernard five years ago, he spoke of his ambition in the game and the medals his father won but are never on show. “That wouldn't be the case with me,” he said. “I don’t think they’d even see the mantelpiece, I’d be too busy showing them to everyone. It would be amazing, and if I could walk away with three Leinsters and an All Ireland that would be special.”

It was special but that was the dream then. Now, the reality is Dublin and Alan Brogan in particular have evolved and led by him they should be disappointed if they don’t win more. For now in Leinster, for later the biggest prize of all.