Over the summer and autumn of 2018 and 2019 the Herald's award winning 'Decades of the Dubs' told the story of Gaelic football in the capital stretching back to the 1950s.
This Thursday night (8.0) Dublin GAA on its social media channels launches its new 'The Hop Ball' Series, sponsored by AIG. The interview style programme will be hosted by former Dublin footballer Eamonn Fennell with Alan Brogan his online guest for the opening episode.
In Issue 5 (2010-2014) Decades of the Dubs: Promised Land Alan Brogan gave his year-by-year diary account of that period of his career (2010-2014). In advance of Thursday's 'The Hop Ball' programme here with the kind permission of Independent News & Media we republish Alan's reflections.
The alarm was set for 5.40am. I’d sneak out of the bedroom and into the training gear I’d laid on the landing, close the front door gently behind me and get straight into the car.
Down to Clontarf for a 6.30am start for training; just me, a foggy head, a banana and a bottle of water.
Having too much in your stomach on those mornings wasn’t a smart idea.
This was life post 'Startled Earwigs'.
Early mornings. Gruelling slog. Two sessions a day.
It was obvious from early on that Pat Gilroy was trying to really test guys mentally after we collapsed against Kerry the previous August.
Obviously there was a physical component to it as well.
It was hard on your body. But it was designed to be hard.
And the primary function of it for Pat was to discover who he could rely on when the going got tough again.
And it was tough.
There were guys puking on some of those early mornings.
But, and I’m aware this might just be hindsight talking, there was something enjoyable and bonding about the whole experience.
Once you got up, it’s a very peaceful time of the morning around Dublin city.
We used to go up to DCU for breakfast after the session at half seven and there would be no-one else in the canteen only us, the Dublin squad, trying to figure out what we were about.
We’d spend 45 minutes in each other’s company before lads had to go off to work and there was a feeling of satisfaction that would linger after those sessions.
We knew we were putting in the hardest yards and we were bonding again as a group.
It might have seemed extreme but at this stage, we were just about willing to do anything in our All-Ireland quest.
Some of us had been on the road with Dublin for so long and we had so much invested in the team, that it didn’t really knock a stripe off us to be getting up at that time or immersing ourselves in that kind of training.
Guys were willing to do anything we were asked.
In 2009, Pat went with a similar tactical template to the one 'Pillar' had used.
But after losing to Kerry the way we did, Pat went with a much more defensive mindset.
Our tackle count became the key statistic for all players that year.
Under 'Pillar', the important numbers I’d look at were the number of possessions I’d have in a game or my scoring ratio.
They were the stats I was trying to drive up all the time.
But under Pat in 2010, talk in training was all about how many tackles we got in.
If I got more than my brother Bernard or if Paul Flynn got more than me, there was a bit of slagging over it.
So that was the beginning of how we changed our tactical mindset.
But more important than that was the change of attitude Pat wanted us to undergo.
The funny thing about the five goals we conceded to Meath in the Leinster semi-final that year was, when you take the rest of the year into account, it was a bit of an aberration.
But the turning point came the next day (after the Meath defeat) in St Clare’s when Pat took five of us; me, Barry Cahill, Mossy Quinn, Conal Keaney and Bryan Cullen into a room and showed us clips of the match.
That meeting laid the foundation for the attitude of the senior guys.
They were only subtle things but we were made realise that what we were doing wasn’t good enough and we were letting the rest of the team down.
We needed to change the way we interacted with the referee and how we reacted to frees when they were given against us.
Pat felt if the senior guys could set a standard, the rest would follow.
We were rickety at the start but we got back to another All-Ireland semi-final that year where a Cork team knocking hard on the door over the previous few summers beat us by a point.
Bernard was in the form of his life but we gave away too many frees late on.
We were still raw.
For some reason though, that semi-final never seemed as big a disappointment as the other ones we lost.
We might have been delusional through lack of sleep, but we sensed we were going somewhere.
Diarmuid Connolly came back to us after a year out in 2010, which was ideal because we needed to evolve in attack.
Equally helpfully was Paul Flynn’s accelerated development into being probably the best half-forward in the game.
It’s easy in hindsight to view a team’s path to success as linear and every development as pre-meditated but you can’t plan for a player like Diarmuid landing back in or Flynner turning into a bona fide star.
Other lads who Pat had brought in over the previous 12 months started to give us something tangible as well.
The likes of Eoghan O’Gara, Kevin McManamon, Michael Darragh Macauley and Mick Fitzsimons weren’t fellas with big underage careers.
In 2010, they were raw.
But what attracted Pat to them was their sheer athleticism.
Mick Fitz wouldn’t have been the most natural footballer you ever saw but he was so sticky and he worked really hard at being better at what he didn’t have.
And what made that team what it became that year was everyone’s comfort in their roles and responsibilities.
We were all completely clear on the specificity of what we were expected to do on the pitch.
Nobody was expected to be something they weren’t or do something they couldn’t.
That was the key to the successful chemistry of that team.
For all that, we weren’t great in the Leinster Championship. And before that, we frittered away a big lead in the League final against Cork, raising new questions about (a) our ability to see out matches and (b) beat football’s superpowers in games of significance.
The moment it all clicked was the All-Ireland quarter-final against Tyrone.
That’s when everything we’d worked on for the previous two years came together.
Diarmo was outstanding but the quality of our football was exceptional. Defensively we were sound. It just clicked.
Which was in total contrast to the semi-final.
We knew going into the All-Ireland semi-final that Donegal had been playing a new type of game but we just weren’t prepared for the extremity of their tactics.
They presented us with as many excuses as we wanted that evening to just throw in the towel and play the victim.
But it was the mark of how much we’d improve the psychological side of the game that we ground it out.
In my zone along the Donegal '45', they seemed to have about ten players within ten yards of me.
So I was receiving the ball and taking snap-shots from distance and off balance.
Every miscue gave them energy. As did the boos at half-time.
What was interesting about how we chiselled it out wasn’t the changed tactics, it was the players that stepped up.
I had a bad game. Bernard couldn’t get into it. Diarmuid was sent off.
But what lingered that day was the performances of the likes of Bryan Cullen and Denis Bastick, less high-profile members of that team, who were heroic for us in getting over the line.
So in my tenth year as a Dublin footballer, I had reached my first All-Ireland final.
My abiding memories of the final are different to most.
The turnover just prior to Kevin McManamon’s goal was something we’d worked on, closing the space around Killian Young and picking his pocket.
That didn’t happen by accident.
The other moment that stayed with me was Eamon Fennell winning the hop-ball that we turned into the winning free.
That was a scenario where the game could have turned after Ger Brennan forfeited a free for pushing Kieran Donaghy in the face.
But we’d made our own luck.
And I’d seen Clucko kicking so many of those frees from that exact spot in training, I hadn’t a shred of doubt that he’d nail that kick.
We’d a long winter but we’d stayed together as a group.
Pat obviously saw another All-Ireland in us and given we were champions heading into 2012, it wasn’t beyond the bounds of possibility that we could go back-to-back.
Was there a hangover from the All-Ireland win?
We definitely weren’t as fresh in the League as we were the previous year, when we won six games on the trot, and that manifested itself in some inconsistent performances.
But given how we were dominating Leinster at that time, we were still fairly certain we’d be in the shakeup.
We had a strong team, no real injuries to speak of and all the pressure had been lifted off us from winning the previous September.
The thing about winning is, it’s no good to you once you get the ball rolling again and there were none of us in that dressing-room who saw one All-Ireland as being the summit of our ambition or the most we could wring out of our careers.
We had a winning formula and a brilliant manager we all believed in.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, the moment that wrecked the year for me came in the Leinster final.
I scored two points that day but after 25 minutes, just as I kicked my second, I tore an abductor muscle in my groin.
The prognosis wasn’t especially good but we drew Laois in the All-Ireland quarter-final and given where we were at that time and where Laois were, we knew we were more than likely going to make that semi-final.
With Kerry out of the Championship, Pat Gilroy decided we’d go to Dingle for our training camp.
It was another one of those weekends where the bonds formed were as productive as the work we did on the pitch.
We were even allowed out to Páidí Ó Sé’s pub in Ventry for a couple of pints.
The All-Ireland semi-final isn’t one I’ll remember fondly.
Despite the injury, I’d trained the previous Thursday week before the match and played a half of the As versus Bs game, so Pat decided I was healthy enough for a spot on the bench.
Our first half performance that day was awful. Mayo caught us totally cold. And they had one of those days when they couldn’t miss.
I was brought on at half-time and nearly set up a goal when I played a pass to Bernard, who set Diarmuid up.
But I broke down in the next play.
We got ourselves back into it that day but it was a downbeat note on which to end Pat’s time in charge.
A few days later, he called us into DCU for a meeting and told us he was stepping down.
To be honest, I wasn’t surprised. I knew he had a young family and a hectic work life and I’d half expected he might go after the previous year’s All-Ireland.
It’s probably not often a manager retires with the respect of everyone in his last dressing-room but I can say for a fact that that was the case with Pat.
I’d limited dealings with Jim Gavin before 2013 but along with Declan Darcy, he coached our Dublin U21 team when we won the county’s first All-Ireland at the grade in 2003.
I was captain that year but because I was with the seniors as well, I was only part of the preparations in the sessions before the matches.
Jim’s pedigree as an underage manager was impeccable.
And in the first meeting he had with an extended panel, he outlined his beliefs about Dublin football, about how we should play the game and the values that we would adhere to when we played and trained and in how we conducted ourselves away from the group.
They were values around which he planned to create a culture for Dublin football and it was all genuinely very impressive.
My problem was a nagging injury I’d had diagnosed as osteitis pubis.
That was my 13th year as an inter-county footballer and the volume of training I’d done to that point had probably started to take its toll.
I tried everything I could to avoid surgery and just mind the issue so as to get on the pitch but in February, I relented and went to England to have an operation.
And for the rest of Jim’s first year, I was in a race against time to get fit to play some part in our summer.
The team was developing in my absence.
Ciarán Kilkenny came home from Australia after just a couple of months. Jack McCaffrey was beginning to show signs he could be a lethal weapon from our half-back line.
And Paul Mannion came straight into the team as a 20-year-old.
What was key in all that evolution was the fact that Jim had managed those players to an All-Ireland U21 title the previous year.
He knew what they could do and they knew exactly what Jim wanted.
All the while, I was inching back to a point where I could play again.
Then, three weeks before we played Kerry in that classic All-Ireland semi-final, I pulled my hamstring doing a speed test in the gym.
I wasn’t a fatal blow but I knew I’d be under pressure to make the final.
As it happened, I got back quick enough to get a spot on the bench that day.
I’d put in huge work to get fit and I’d have backed myself to make an impact if I’d come on that day but I was over a year without playing at that level and I climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand as an unused sub.
Then again, Bernard got two goals that day and we’d beaten Mayo.
I had my second All-Ireland medal. There are worse ways for seasons to finish.
Of all the young players coming through the ranks in Dublin football, Ciarán Kilkenny was the fella I was closest to.
He’s from Castleknock, where I live. And I’d known from a long way out that the chances were that he was going to replace me as Dublin’s centre-forward.
That was something I wanted to be a part of.
Ciarán is a vulture when it comes to absorbing information.
He has a sporting intelligence that most footballers don’t have but he was a sponge when it came to soaking up anything I could tell him.
He had ideas about how to play that position and I had experience.
We got on well.
After 13 seasons and almost a full year out injured, it felt natural enough around that time that he’d take that role.
I was prepared to fight for any place in the team I could get but then in March in League game against Kildare, Ciarán tore his cruciate ligament.
It wasn’t exactly how I’d pictured securing my place back in the team but that’s unfortunately how it panned out.
The picture that sums up this year was the one of me and Jamie taken after the full time whistle after we were beaten by Donegal in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Jamie made his way down to me from the stand and I took him over the railings.
He started crying and that set me off.
It was only the next morning that I saw reports that I was considering my future as a Dublin footballer.
To be honest, I wasn’t.
I hadn’t given it any thought at all. Maybe if we’d beaten Donegal and won the All-Ireland, I’d have seen it as the ideal opportunity to go out on a high but I hadn’t made any decisions either way.
So I sent out a Tweet clarifying that.
The whole year was a huge anti-climax.
We were playing some serious football. Flynner and Diarmo were in the form of their lives.
But we were so devoted to how we went about attacking, we neglected the defensive side of our game.
Maybe we were naïve. But we thought we had the footballers and the system to just go at every team, press up and play man-to-man football.
Up until then, it had worked.
In fairness to Donegal and Jim McGuinness, it took a good team with a smart manager to actually identify and exploit the areas where we were leaving gaps.
And they did that ruthlessly that day.
For that team, with the talent we had and given the way we were playing that year, it was a shame we came unstuck like that.
In fairness to Jim, he was analytical about it afterwards, as he always is.
He didn’t shirk responsibility and the lessons learned from that day probably set in train all the success that has followed.