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'So, says Jim, you’re travelling on Saturday. I nearly fall off the chair. ‘What?!’'

Bernard Brogan describes the run-up to last year’s All-Ireland final.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin celebrates with Bernard Brogan after last year's All-Ireland final.
Dublin manager Jim Gavin celebrates with Bernard Brogan after last year's All-Ireland final.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Updated Dec 21st 2020, 8:05 PM

THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE is an extract from The Hill by Bernard Brogan.

I don’t sleep well that night. And I sleep even worse the following night. Because that’s the eve of our last training session before the final and Jim will once again be giving me bad news.

I’m not going to be as passive this time as I was before the drawn game so I’m here tossing and turning because of all the points I want to get across to him and how I want to make them. For one, he’s not retiring me for a second time over the phone. If he calls, I’m going to let it run out and text him back after the missed call: Sorry, Jim, caught in work here. Would prefer to see you face to face this evening.

In the morning, after getting some bit of sleep, I go through it with Keira and make use of her expertise. It’s all about tone, she advises. You want to be calm, cool, collected but assertive. O’Gara’s in a similar boat. After being left out for that short A-versus-B game, he texted Jim that night in keeping with his honest, no-bullshit way: I don’t want your call on Thursday! If you want to meet for a chat, I’ll meet ya.

So, just after I let Jim’s call ring out around midday, I text O’Gara: Wanna meet up for a coffee before training this evening?

At four o’clock we meet in McMahon’s, a café on Botanic Avenue in Glasnevin. EOG shakes his head. Berno, how could he not put us on the other night after how well we went at the weekend?!

He’s a fantastic, genuine fella, O’Gara. He can be fiery, passionate, aggressive, sarcastic, and yet soft, thoughtful, loveable, loyal: a great big grizzly bear disguising the teddy bear within.

I have so much admiration for him. He comes from a family of 10 in Terenure, as he puts it, a ‘real either-eat-or-be-eaten’, blue-collar environment. As a kid he was desperately shy and introverted, and really struggled with low self-esteem. When the economy crashed in 2008 he lost his job as a bricklayer. The following year he was no sooner called up to the senior squad than he was let go again; Pat Gilroy told him that he was all over the place and too lazy.

Plenty of guys would have just given up then. Instead it lit a fire under Eoghan’s arse. He got back onto the panel for 2010. And he went back to college and got himself a degree.

Mick Bohan, who’d have coached both of us in DCU and then again with the Dubs in Jim’s first two years, often tells the story about the Shooting Challenge he used to have us do in 2013.

Back then you’d have had Dermo, me, Alan and Flynner in and around our peak. Mannion, Kilkenny, Dean and Cossie were also coming through around then. A lot of sharpshooters, a lot of blue-chip talent there vying to be the top dog in the pack.

And yet the season best score in Mick’s shooting challenge that year was EOG going for 33 out of 36 the last night before the All Ireland final. It was testament to the work he put in on his game and it showed in the final when he came on and kicked two points in a one-point match.

That night in the Gibson, Eoghan’s mother told Mick that it had been the first season she had been able to go to games without hearing some of the crowd abusing her son’s skill level.

I always knew and appreciated though what we had in Eoghan back in 2010: a fearless battering ram with a nose for goal and someone who had a great understanding with me of each other’s movement.

Even now any time he’s called on he’ll do the business for Dublin. In his one and only start last year he scored 2-2 against Roscommon. In his only cameo this year he got that goal up in Omagh. And yet, like me, it wasn’t even enough to get on the twenty-six the last day against Kerry.

I suppose we’ve been fighting for the same spot on the matchday panel. Earlier in the year he’d have been ahead of me; now maybe I’ve crept a little ahead of him. But yet while it would mean one less body in the way of me making the team bus, I’d hate if he had left.

 

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A few times this year I’ve had to talk him down from the ledge. And in fairness, he’s stuck with it and hung on and never shown his disappointment to the group. He’s always attacked the next session. It can’t have been easy. He has the biggest commute of anyone on the panel. He now lives in Wexford where Elaine is from and they’re building a house for themselves and their two kids. He has a lot on. We don’t say it here, but we both know this will be our last training session together with Dublin.

So we talk about our plans then for Saturday. I’m going to get him and his family up to our Littlewoods box, we’ll watch the game there, have a few pints, make a good day of it.

We rise from our table, settle the bill, then head to our cars and on to St Clare’s. I drop my bag in the dressing room, then knock on the door of Jim’s office. I’ll just be another minute here, Bernard, Jim says. He’s talking to James McCarthy, who is going to midfield on Saturday.

My heart is thumping. Right, stay cool, calm, composed. Be assertive. I rehearse in my head the points I’m going to make. Then Jim pops the head out. Okay, Bernard. Declan Darcy is here as well. We all sit down. Jim begins. Talks about the massive respect he has for me, what a great leader I’ve been around the group, how he’s seen me talking to and helping a lot of lads. That I’ve really stepped it up the last few weeks in training…

I’m just waiting for the BUT. I’m nodding along but I’m only half-listening because I’ve heard it all before and I’m just waiting for that word: BUT. But there is no BUT. It’s an AND instead…. And so, says Jim, you’re travelling on Saturday. I nearly fall off the chair. ‘What?!’

You’re on the bus for the weekend, Jim repeats. You’re on the match-day panel. I lean back in my chair, resting my head in my hands, and exhale. ‘God, I wasn’t expecting that, to be honest!’ There goes that speech I’d prepared!

‘Thank you. I appreciate you giving me my shot. I said at the start of the year to you that there would be a war coming and that if you needed me, I’m there if you want me. So if you need me, I’ll be ready.’

Then Declan says something that will stay with me forever. He doesn’t really talk a lot, Declan, but when he does, everyone listens because of the respect he commands within the group. And he says: In all my years involved with Dublin, you’re probably the best player I’ve ever seen run onto that field. And I’m so delighted that you’ll be running out onto Croke Park next Saturday. Wow. So Declan Darcy does do sentiment after all.

And it leaves me speechless. Humbled. Moved. I bite my lip, rise from my chair, and nod. ‘Thank you very much.’

Then I shake both of their hands and close the door behind me. And outside, what’s the first thing that crosses my mind? Eoghan O’Gara.

There we were, making plans to watch the game together, and now we won’t. The two of us have hardly squeezed onto the bus. And I feel awful for him.

I look over in the corner of the dressing room and there he is. He spots me. Walks over. Well, what’s the story?

‘I’m in,’ I say, shaking my head.

And he can see that I’m conflicted about it. ‘God, bud…’

Will you stop! he says, hitting me on the shoulder. I’m delighted for you! At least one of us is there!

Eoghan O’Gara. What a teammate. What a friend. What a man.

A few hours later I’m back in the car and ring Keira. ‘We’re going to have to change our plans again for Saturday…’

The Hill by Bernard Brogan is published by Reach Sport. More info here.

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