Hogg hoping George Best link will get Belfast fans to back Glasgow
Published 28/05/2015 | 02:30
When Glasgow Warriors coach Gregor Townsend likened his project to that of Barcelona earlier this season, the immediate question their fans posed was simple.
Who's our Lionel Messi? A reply wasn't long in forthcoming; it could only be that irrepressible, rubber-hipped weaver of magical spells, Stuart Hogg. Except that he had already been linked to another gilded star of the Association game.
Three years ago before his Scotland debut, Hogg revealed how his father's thirst for genealogy had unearthed a Belfast Best, a great grandmother who was related to George Best's own antecedents.
Last season, it seemed that Belfast were hell-bent on repatriating their long-lost son when Ulster were linked with the full-back's signature; the fuss resulted in him being bombed from the first XV for both the Pro12 semi-final and final.
It is unclear whether Ulster's imminent coaching turmoil prevented the move from happening; what is clear is that the gifted 22-year-old is now playing better than ever.
He is at once a lone beacon for his country's miserable form and the touchstone for an enigmatic side who threaten to break the stranglehold of Irish/Welsh dominance in the Pro12 this Saturday.
At least this year, he will be in a position to help them after missing out last time around.
"It killed me," he admits. "We got ourselves into such a great position last year, and not being involved in the two biggest games, I was very disappointed. But there were reasons, I've learned and I've moved on. I'm a lot calmer than I used to be. I enjoy it more. At times I just fell out of love with the game last year but I enjoy it a lot better right now.
"Glasgow's a great place to be and I get on with everyone. I worked a lot with Steve Black - Jonny Wilkinson's go-to guy in terms of mental preparation. It's so much easier when you're in love with the game."
Asked if he believes he made the right decision to stay with Glasgow, one senses a winner's medal will prove more persuasive than his reply. "I've learned a lot from last season and I'm just focused very much on becoming a better person and a better rugby player. This season I've done that."
And, while Ulster supporters may be ambiguous about a player who rejected their province's offer - they were doubling his then relatively paltry £90,000 salary - his family connections will be a help.
"We've been making up for lost time, I assure you," he smiles. "The family are very big supporters of Ulster and Glasgow and I imagine they'll support us this week.
"It's all calmed down now, we see each other a lot now and it'll be great to catch up again. I couldn't tell you how closely related they are, dad's cousins and stuff like that.
"But the George Best connection? I'm taking it, I tell you!"