Kilkenny 'veteran' Hogan backing young guns to shine
Richie Hogan finds himself in a unusual spot. He's only 25, but is one of the well-established figures in the quickly changing Kilkenny squad. Some of the novices, he points out, are older than him.
"It's strange; I'm a veteran now," he laughs. "Even though some of the new lads coming in are older than me."
The news that Kilkenny are likely to be without four of their most experienced players for Saturday's Leinster championship opener will shine a brighter light on Brian Cody's new faces than ever before. After a successful league, Hogan has no doubt they are ready for the task.
"We had a different team in almost every game and it was a confidence boost for everyone to know that no matter who is beside you, they can do a job. We have 25 or 26 lads who can play in the championship and that's different to what we used the league for in recent years, when we always played our best team.
"But we gave lads a chance this year and they have stepped up. When you give them a chance they get confidence. You saw it with Lester Ryan last year, the more he played the better he got, so I'm not surprised at all.
"These lads have won U-21 and minor All-Irelands. They were talking about the great Clare U-21 teams and they were beating these lads by a couple of points. We knew, standard wise, they were good enough, it was just a matter of giving them their chance."
A league final win over Tipperary was good preparation for the championship, but nothing can prepare them for the real thing this weekend, Hogan warns. Back in 2008, he was the new kid on the block. The league had gone well and Hogan was in form. Offaly in the championship left his head spinning, though.
"People underestimate how many teams are competitive. Any time we played Offaly it has always been really competitive," he says. "We met in 2008 and that was my debut and I couldn't get the hang of it at all. The whole pace lifted. Offaly have such natural hurlers and they really will lift it when they meet Kilkenny.
"That's maybe why the league final was so important. A couple of things lifted the pace of that game. Sometimes it's the team you are playing and ourselves and Tipperary always has a huge pace to it.
"The Offaly game will be a little step further again because it's the be-all and end-all. I'd be very confident in the lads. There are some lads who it will bring on even more because they'll love the occasion.
"They have played in big games before, but maybe have been living in the shadow of other lads on the team, but that doesn't mean that they aren't good enough to be playing."
Just what shape the team takes remains to be seen. Hogan was named player of the month after helping Kilkenny to league honours in April. He spent most of that campaign in midfield and while he enjoys it there, he feels "more suited" to playing in the forwards. Not that he's complaining. Being in the team at all is enough. It always has been.
"Come the championship I could end up in midfield or the forwards or I could be on the sideline. I got man of the match in the league final in 2009 and I wasn't playing the first round of the championship."
You sense Brian Cody and Kilkenny wouldn't have it any other way.