Another All-Ireland quarter-final awaiting Dublin, another question mark hanging over Bernard Brogan’s form.
Two years ago, the then reigning Footballer of the Year was substituted in the Leinster final win over Wexford after kicking nine shots either wide or short.
He finished that season with an All-Ireland medal, his superb second half against Donegal in the semi-final breaking up their suppressive defence.
But is this latest trough more serious? Sunday’s win over Meath was the third time in as many games this summer that he has been replaced.
Although his first exit from the field came after scoring seven points as Westmeath were filleted, his departures in the following two ended mediocre displays.
So what gives? A groin problem, for one.
“I probably haven’t gotten up to the level I was when I had six or seven games in a row during the league. But I have had four or five weeks of training. The last time the [Meath] boys had been well marshalled any time I got on the ball… I would have got the head knocked off me, as you saw in the first half.
“I only got a couple of shots off in the whole game so it’s just something I have to work on myself. To try and get on ball and make space. That’s my own challenge.”
Bernard’s older brother Alan, he reveals, is expected to be in contention for a match-day panel spot for next month’s All-Ireland quarter-final after recovering from his own groin issues.
With Ciarán Kilkenny on the 40 and Paul Mannion inside enjoying a playing relationship going back years into under-age football, is Bernard suffering a little from not having play-making Alan supplying him?
“Maybe. I wouldn’t have gotten as much ball the last day as I would have previously. But the way Meath set it up, our full-forward line didn’t get a whole lot of ball.
“But Alan will be back the next day. He’s flying, he played with the club last week.
“But it’s not as if the ball is not coming in. It’s been more of a running game and the lads have been shooting from distance rather than the ball going into the full-forward line. That is just the game plan that has worked.”
With the Dublin forward line the most offensive-looking left in the championship, Bernard’s burden of scoring has been lifted. At least he sees it that way.
“For a long time you [media] guys would have asked me can Dublin win an All-Ireland without me playing well or me scoring seven points a game. The lads answered that this year all year.
“It takes a lot of pressure off me. I’ve got to get out there and cement my own place in the team now and make sure I don’t lose my own place.”
Having Alan back in the frame naturally pleases Bernard, especially after what he’s been through to become available again. But then there are few players with better awareness than him.
“He gives us an extra bullet in the gun that when things are going one way you can bring him on and he’ll add a new dimension, like Kevin McManamon does for the team, that allows you to change the focus of the attack.”
McManamon made his 18th championship appearance last Sunday, but it was his 12th as a substitute.
Bernard doesn’t believe Jim Gavin necessarily relies on seasoned players to steady the ship. “It’s about having the right man in the right position at the right time. The likes of Kevin McManamon is his own worst enemy because he’s so good off the bench. He’s the right man to bring on though, because when teams are tired he comes on and runs at them.”
Bernard has also seen Stephen Cluxton come out of “his shell a lot” since being announced captain, as well as Diarmuid Connolly after he was chosen as vice-captain.
“Stephen was one of those people who kind of delivered on the pitch and wasn’t... he was a big personality but he wasn’t a big talker around the place. In years gone by he would have effed you out of it every now and again but at least now he’s doing some constructive criticism as well so it’s good.”
On Connolly, Bernard said: “He’s one of the most talented footballers out there and would have been a bit wild in the past, but he’s really settled down now and he’s stepping up as a leader as well.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved