Over the Christmas while Down Under with the family, Eoin Brosnan caught up with Tommy Walsh in Melbourne over a fine meal in a downtown Japanese restaurant. Brosnan's last full season with Kerry had been Walsh's first – 2008, the year of the 'Twin Towers' – and their lives had changed so much since then.
Walsh was now a full-time professional AFL player who every morning had to log in to his personal computer what he ate and drank the previous day, how long he had slept for, how many times he'd woken during the night, even how often he'd gone to the toilet. His teammates at St Kilda's had nicknamed him Ivan because of his striking resemblance to the robotic Russian in Rocky IV and initially Walsh felt as rigorously tested and monitored as Mr Drago himself. The first few entries had taken Walsh nearly half an hour to input, and while he had now whittled that down to about six minutes, detailing the colour and frequency of his urine was hardly something he had done back home.
Brosnan was no longer playing for Kerry either, a club player of a totally different kind to Walsh, but all the happier for it. Football was fun again. The last few years with Kerry, it had been a chore.
He doesn't want you to get him wrong. For the most part playing with the county was a pleasure and a privilege. He played in six All Ireland finals, winning three. He got to soldier with some of the greatest players to play the game – Moynihan, Gooch, the Ó Sés; got to see places he'd never otherwise have got to see – China, South Africa, Thailand, Vegas, the Bahamas; while for a man with a conscientious, sober disposition ideally suited to his job as a solicitor, keeping himself fit and trim wasn't overly-demanding.
It wasn't as if he couldn't endure all the slings and arrows either. In his first season with the county there was the whole furore over replacing Seamus Moynihan as team captain for the humiliating 2001 All Ireland semi-final defeat to Meath. The following year's All Ireland final hinged on a goal attempt of his that went just a fraction past the post and a last-minute attempt at a point that veered just wide. In 2003 he was posterised for posterity, the Kerry player grimly grasping to the ball on the ground surrounded by a swarm of ravenous Tyrone players. Every time Brosnan bounced back, stronger, better. But by the time Kerry were successful striving to put back-to-back All Irelands in 2007, his appetite was waning. "Everyone has dips," says Brosnan, "but when you're not enjoying it for a prolonged period, it's time to step down."
The whole saga over being dropped for the 2006 All Ireland final undoubtedly weighed on him. That summer Brosnan had netted three goals the day Kieran Donaghy was unleashed against Longford and in the following week's watershed All Ireland quarter-final against Armagh, he not only scored an early goal that signalled Kerry's intent, but in Jack O'Connor's eyes made the play that defined Kerry's resolve when they were down to 14 men in the closing minutes by "f***ing Paddy McKeever out over the end line". In the semi-final against Cork though he only touched the ball six times in 55 minutes. The fact his marker, Ger Spillane, had his least effective game of the season en route to winning an All Star carried little weight with O'Connor who was aggrieved that Brosnan hadn't informed him that he was carrying a groin injury.
Over the following few weeks Brosnan would regularly commute to Limerick to be treated by Ger Hartmann and in trial games would be regularly one of the top five performers on view. But so was Declan O'Sullivan and come match day O'Sullivan was the one handed the number 11 jersey. Dropping a player who'd scored four goals in his previous three games enraged Crokes diehards and Brosnan himself was initially devastated, skipping the team meal the night the team was announced. By the weekend of the match he had fully accepted his role, one which O'Connor stressed would be vital. As it transpired, Kerry had the game effectively wrapped up when Brosnan was brought on for the second half in which he scored a goal and a point.
The following year Kerry retained the All Ireland with Brosnan a regular starter but it was a hard year. He was now married to Mary and a partner in his father's solicitors' firm. In the aftermath of the 2008 All Ireland final against Tyrone then, he and team manager Pat O'Shea took enormous stick, O'Shea accused of being too loyal to his fellow clubman who hadn't won enough breaking ball. Brosnan could almost feel every set of eyes on him as he walked down the streets of Killarney and would take the league off that following spring. A good vein of club form meant he was coaxed back for the championship, but a week after he was brought on in the Munster semi-final defeat to Cork, Brosnan informed O'Connor that he'd had enough, and O'Connor didn't put up any resistance. Watching Kerry go on to win that All Ireland, Brosnan experienced no pangs of regret, only genuine delight for old comrades, and a week later overriding joy as little Annie was born.
"You begin to realise towards the end of your career there's a lot more important things to life than football, things like work and family. Inter-county football is a very pressurised environment. The glare of the national media is on you. Walking down the street, every fella is looking at you, judging you. Near the end I wasn't enjoying it so there was no point in doing it. There's less pressure at club level and it's something I've definitely enjoyed."
He's thrived too, and so have the Crokes. Team manager Harry O'Neill reckons Brosnan has been playing the best club football of his career since turning 30 last summer. What has particularly delighted O'Neill is that people who scapegoated Brosnan after the 2008 defeat to Tyrone are now reappraising and appreciating his worth as a Kerry player.
Brosnan may not have been a box-office name, he may never have won an All Star when 18 different teammates did throughout the course of the decade he played for the county. But only Sheehy, Spillane, Liston and Cooper have scored more championship goals for Kerry, and the incredible streak of goals he bagged for Crokes in their run to the county final reminded the cognoscenti just how many times he thundered through and blasted to the net for the county.
People have even suggested he could still do a job for Kerry but Brosnan feels he has nothing to prove, just as he feels no sense of vindication about his recent form. "I always knew I was well able to play at the highest level and that's what matters to me."
He's happy with things just as they are. He now has the freedom to book a summer holiday like the one in Spain last August, only the second he'd known since he first started with Kerry. He can still give so much to the club. "A lot of players, when they give up inter-county aren't really able to give anymore to the club. I wanted my body be in good enough shape to be able to give a good few more years to the Crokes."
With Kerry, there were plenty of fond memories to go with some of the bad. With the Crokes there's plenty more to create.