With Gaelic games in lockdown until at least July 20 due to the deadly coronavirus, Sunday Life Sport has introduced a series with Armagh’s All-Ireland winner and Crossmaglen legend Oisin McConville, chatting with 11 of the biggest names in the sport.
This week it’s the turn of Derry dynamo Brendan Rogers. Tasked with the clamping down of the opposition’s best players, Rogers takes it all in his considerably brisk stride. Hugely successful at club level, he feels now, at the age of 26, is a prime time for his county to start moving forward.
With players of immense talent and leadership like Rogers, surely it is the optimum time for that Derry revival.
Oisin: Your schedule has been pretty hectic in the last number of years. How strange is it having all this time on your hands?
Brendan: I’m really enjoying it. Normally we might grab a week off during the year and that sometimes feels like an eternity, so that gives you an idea what this is like. Despite what people might think, I’m fairly flexible, fairly easygoing and I’m finding plenty of ways to keep myself occupied. I built up a decent collection of weights and, between that and road running, the training has been easy enough to keep up. The big difference is not the actual physical activity. It’s more the having to be in a certain place at a certain time and the pressures of that. It’s that which takes its toll, not the physical work. I suppose the only thing you miss with not meeting up is the craic with the other lads.
Oisin: So who are you in isolation with then?
Brendan: My mum, dad and brother and sister. My brother Patrick is the Ulster heavyweight boxing champion, so training can be quite competitive in our house. My dad is extremely competitive too. My mum is a nurse and she is involved with the nursing homes, which obviously means we have been in complete isolation due to the dangers of spreading the virus. Other than training, I’ve been relying on Netflix. I’m watching the Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance and After Life with Ricky Gervais.
Oisin: You are a dual star who plays football and hurling. Is it tough to balance both?
Brendan: Well, I feel at the club we have a decent grasp on it. We’ve found out that less is more a lot of the time when it comes to training. The management are very sensible and they realise that players know their own bodies better than anyone and that trust is there. The club invested in GPS for players and they’ve been worth their weight in gold. It takes some joined-up thinking from both football and hurling managers. The constant go is a lot more mentally draining than it is physically. I guess that everyone knows when they are tired, like when the mood changes and you find yourself more cranky than normal.
Oisin: Do you have a preference for hurling or football?
Brendan: I love playing both. The hurling very quickly makes you move on from the football and vice versa. The difference I play position-wise is like the difference between chasing and leading. There is great learning in it too when it comes back to trying to nullify another player. I enjoy that side of the different positions.
Oisin: Do you fear burnout?
Brendan: It’s something that’s never been spoken about. I feel we are conscious of such things, but habits are good off the field, including diet, and a lot of training is skills-based — you have an increased workload with football one week and hurling the next. If there are a few weeks during the year, we might do a mini training camp where fitness can be worked on. A lot of this stuff is common sense. You can’t continue to flog your body and also expect to be fresh going into games.
Oisin: You’ve had huge success with Slaughtneil at club level, but Derry have flattered to deceive. Why?
Brendan: It’s hard to say exactly why. A lot of times Derry have been playing in the League a lot without a full hand to pick from. A lot of times, if us Slaughtneil lads are missing, you’re talking about four of the starting six defenders before you go up the pitch and consider the other guys. As a result of not having the best players available, others chose to opt out of the panel and all of a sudden you are down 12 or 14 of your best players. The key to progress for me is to have the best players available and playing together for a sustained period. It’s the same thing with the continuity of management and everyone together trying to build that club mentality.
Oisin: What has Rory Gallagher brought to the table?
Brendan: Professionalism, standards and mentality. We have had an education in tactical awareness. Rory is very clear in his message to individual players. His approach to video analysis is more about why certain things happened. He will then coach directly around that scenario. Believe it or not, there is no coaching blanket defence!
Oisin: Are there young players coming through in Derry and is the future bright?
Brendan: You’ve got Shea Downey, Se McGuigan, Paul Cassidy and Jude McAtamney, who are just some of the guys who have already made an impression, and if you consider we’ve lost three big players to Aussie Rules, that gives you an idea of the sort of talent in Derry. The biggest thing about these guys is their ambition is huge — they train hard and understand the importance of the team. I couldn’t be more impressed.
Oisin: How can the GAA help a player like you that is giving so much to the Association?
Brendan: I’m not sure how they could as an amateur organisation. Like, if you look at how dual players at inter-county level basically disappeared because the demands are so huge, for anyone like that the GAA would need to consider a semi-pro status for them.
Oisin: How would you feel if there was no action this year due to the coronavirus?
Brendan: Selfishly, it wouldn’t bother me. Health-wise, I wouldn’t want to risk the death of a family member. Think of a simple thing like physios working in hospitals and then running out onto the pitch to treat players and going back in to treat patients in hospital the next day. It doesn’t add up. There’s too much risk and risk to the referees. And playing behind closed doors is basically a glorified friendly.
Oisin: What other sports are you interested in?
Brendan: I’m a world champion Irish dancer and I danced right up until I was 18. I also like badminton — my dad played competitively and we have a net at home. That can also get very competitive!
Oisin: What player currently playing do you admire most?
Brendan: Dublin’s Kevin McManamon. He has been able to maintain a specific role for a sustained period and in coming off the bench has continually made a difference. That takes a seriously positive mentality.