Hogan desperate to star on national stage
RAIN lashes the windows of the O'Loughlin Gaels clubhouse, obscuring the view of an under-age training session as Brian Hogan surmises that the club's assault on an All-Ireland club title has been a work in progress since 1994.
Sitting beneath a Munster jersey signed by former team-mate and rugby professional Ian Dowling, he agrees that the club are desperate for national success, particularly in light of neighbours James Stephens' hat-trick of titles.
"I suppose it's the goal of every club, isn't it?," he asks. "It's the Holy Grail. You'd love to be able to have it up there on the wall and say you've won one. It'd be fantastic, particularly with some of our neighbours having a couple.
"It'd be nice to have one. It's something that would always be mentioned to you. It'd be sweet alright, but first things first, we have to try and get there and we're a of step away from that still," referring to Saturday's All-Ireland semi-final clash with Antrim's Loughgiel Shamrocks.
Back in 1994, Hogan led the best group of U-14s the club had ever produced to a clean sweep of hurling titles at their age grade. In the same year, the club suffered the ignominy of relegation to junior, but that was to provide the catalyst for a new era for the club.
"We won everything at U-14. The boys won the junior the following year and then they won the intermediate 12 months after. By the time we were minor, they had got to senior and we were starting to come through off the minor team and bolstered it and it kicked on from there."
As a 19-year-old, Hogan was centre- back on the 2001 side that captured the club's first senior title as the population of the club's traditional catchment area exploded thanks to the Celtic Tiger. They repeated the trick in 2003 and made it as far as the All-Ireland semi-finals, where they were undone by Newtownshandrum after a replay.
And in Kilkenny over the past decade, they are behind only Ballyhale Shamrocks in terms of success, with three county titles and two Leinster crowns. It's a record that has given the club a new-found confidence.
"You had the likes of Andy (Comerford) starting to make a breakthrough on to the county team, that's a huge thing as well, having a representative on the Kilkenny team, because you're going up against other clubs and that inferiority complex is gone."
Ballyhale's stranglehold on the Kilkenny scene for the past four years threatened to rob O'Loughlins of another crack at the club title, but they finally halted their 'Drive for Five' in last season's county semi-final.
Some scoffed at the result as the reigning champions were without the irreplaceable Henry Shefflin but Hogan points out that they had previously won a championship without both Shefflin and James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick.
"Yeah, in fairness to them, they're the dominant team. They weren't just our monkey, they were everyone's monkey. They were beating club sides by huge margins which doesn't happen in Kilkenny. They're a serious team."
Few towns boast the rivalry among clubs that exists in Kilkenny City. Another side, Dicksboro, were beaten in the All-Ireland Intermediate final at Croke Park last weekend and the stranglehold that hurling has on hearts and minds contributed to the City's now defunct League of Ireland side.
And in a county, where winning has been commonplace, the desire to deliver silverware in the coming weeks is obvious.
"I think respect is earned. You have some clubs that are living off reputations from 40 years ago,'' he said. "I'd rather be living off a reputation of now and maybe not have a club All-Ireland and clubs not fancying coming up and playing you.
"At least we're a current club -- we've been there for the last 10 years and no one likes playing us. That's a great thing to be said about you.
"Okay, a club All-Ireland is something and there's not many clubs that have them, but the fact we now have three county titles in the club and two Leinster titles -- we would have killed for (that) 10 or 15 years ago. If you said that to older members of the club they never would have believed it."