The last thing Bernard Brogan wants to sound like is a slacker, but when he openly admits to have chosen the easiest possible career path in order to maximise his chances of making the Dublin senior football team, perhaps the work-life-player balance is a little off.

Because he certainly sounds like he’s not alone.

Against the backdrop of the now annual debate over the increasingly stoic level of commitment within the amateur boundaries of the GAA, Brogan makes two telling claims: yes, modern players are more likely to choose a career path that will afford them as much time as possible to train and play matches, and as a result of that, they could be choosing the wrong career paths.

“I’m not sure you can’t have a career while you’re playing,” says Brogan, “but I definitely think that young guys, and even myself at the time, are choosing careers to play football, not just choosing a career. I know some people don’t like the thought of that, in the holistic global view of GAA people, that career paths are being hampered by training.

“But a lot of guys are teachers now, or staying in college as long as they can. And there are lots of PhDs, extra Masters, places like DCU, DIT putting more scholarships out there. That’s great, but I feel that sometimes people would make different career choices, if the commitments were different in GAA.”

The GAA commitment, in other words, is nearly absolute, and Brogan relates this to his own personal experience. After leaving school in 2003, he took up a GAA scholarship at NUI Maynooth, studying finance – as his older brother Alan had done. His main motivation wasn’t what he’d get out of the finance degree, but how soon he could break onto the Dublin team.

“My idea was that I had Alan’s notes, as he’d already done it, it’s 12 hours a week, so I’d be able to play football, put the time into training, and progress and try to get on the Dublin team. Because I wasn’t on the Dublin seniors at the time.

“Now, if I were to do it all over again, I’d probably have done things differently. I probably wouldn’t have chosen finance. I probably would have done engineering. But I didn’t want to do the 40 hours a week, to be honest, and try to play for Dublin. I wanted to commit to Dublin. And it wasn’t as if I was the most studious man in the world. It’s a tough slog for me, so I said I’d take the easy route.

“I’m an accountant now, and it’s great that I also got a Masters, and a professional diploma, to elongate my career to play football in college. But I think individuals are making decisions to make life a bit easier for themselves, because they know what they have to do to make it in football.”
It was different when his father Bernard Brogan Snr was playing football for Dublin, back in the 1970s.

By the time he won his second All-Ireland with Dublin, in 1977, Brogan Snr was an established engineer, specialising in the oil rig industry (a reference to that famously made by Mícheál Ó hEithir in his match commentary of the 1977 All-Ireland semi-final win over Kerry, when Brogan went “drilling” for the winning goal).

“I’ve had a lot of debates with my dad about that,” says Brogan, now also a two-time All-Ireland winner, “and when I look at their (1970s) team, there were doctors and engineers and all sorts of professions. You look at the Dublin team now and they’re nearly all students or teachers.”

There are, Brogan points out, a couple of exceptions; defender Jack McCaffrey is three years into his medical degree at UCD, and if the will to pursue such a demanding career is there then there’s no reason why it can’t be done. No one is saying it will be easy, either.

“But when Jack comes through and has to go in and do his time as a trainee doctor, putting in big hours, will he be able to commit to the football? I think managers are fair enough to lads with their career. No one’s going to say, ‘you can’t’ and I think a lot of bosses are fair as well. So I wouldn’t go as far as saying you can’t do it.

“I know Ian Robertson (former Dublin footballer) went through it, and probably wouldn’t have played as much football as he would have liked, or potentially could have. You can do these things, but maybe not get to the levels that you potentially want to get to, either, and trying to excel at both.”

Yet the notion of becoming “indentured slaves” – as suggested by GAA pundit Joe Brolly – is something Brogan doesn’t quite fear: although it helps that Dublin have a considerate manager in Jim Gavin.

“I wouldn’t go that far, and fairness to Jim, he’s very particular about lads getting enough rest, and if players are with their colleges he leaves them alone. And throughout the year he’s well known for saying ‘you’re off for the weekend’, especially to the older lads, who were going hard, giving it everything.

“Im sure some managers are the same and I’m sure there are some that aren’t, so there is a balance that needs to be looked at there, from the GAA, on a whole. Like the calendar, stuff like that, there’s an argument for reforming that in a way.”

Brogan – speaking at the Sky Sports Living for Sport promotion, after giving the students at St Kevin’s College in Crumlin a masterclass in the skills of Gaelic football – also reckons his older brother Alan will this week make a decision on whether or not to commit to 2015

“I’m hoping, I’m confident, Alan will play on. I think if you feel you can’t add any more to the team than somebody else that’s the time to step aside. I think if Alan sat down and thought about his part he can definitely add something.”(The Irish Times)


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