Divided loyalty as brothers collide for Kilkenny title
Sporting triumphs are regularly fuelled by a band of brothers working together but tomorrow brothers will be divided in their quest for Kilkenny SHC final glory.
In one corner the maroon and white of Clara, with Keith Hogan at centre-forward. Directly opposite him will be his eldest brother Brian, hurling centre-back for the white and green of O'Loughlin Gaels.
Two teams, one family.
Brian was only seven when their family moved to Clara but his heart was already ensconced in the city.
Along with his other brother Barry, he continued his education (both schooling and hurling) by travelling to O'Loughlins while the youngest sibling stayed at home.
Keith was born and reared in Clara, team-mates Lester and Liam Ryan live only a stone's throw away, so it was a logical progression.
"We were always going in different directions. We turned left going out our gate whereas Keith always turned right," Brian joked.
How ironic then that different routes would eventually lead to the same location, and tomorrow's unusual scenario in Nowlan Park.
Keith, seven years Brian's junior at 27, comes face to face with his role model. Having followed his journey through the hurling ranks, he now becomes a part of it.
"Not only is he my brother, he's my hero. I've always looked up to him," Keith said. "He was always a step ahead of me. When I was in primary school, he was winning All-Irelands with Kieran's.
"When I was in Kieran's he was winning Fitzgibbons, when I played Fitzgibbon he was winning All-Irelands with Kilkenny. He was always a giant to me."
Tomorrow is a far cry from childhood when the brothers honed their skills in a field at the back of their house, cultivated by their dad. Occasions like this were the goal, no matter how unusual the circumstances may be.
"We were out there morning, noon and night. Keith is the baby so he was too young to get stuck in but he was more than capable of handling himself," Brian said.
"We spent years honing our skills together but I hope all that training won't come back to haunt me now."
Keith, a maths and economics teacher at Kildare Community School, fired back: "I hurled with Brian during my youth but he would always have taken it handy on me. Sunday might be different."
They are close friends, brotherly love is evident. They keep in touch regularly either over the phone, through Snapchat or meeting in their parents' house. But this week has been a little different.
"We saw a little less of each other. We're not actively trying to avoid each other but it's probably easier to do our own thing," seven-time All-Ireland-winner Brian said.
Whatever headaches they will have marking each other, it's nothing compared to rollercoaster of emotions their parents have experienced since their semi-final wins. It was joked about growing up, but reality leaves them in a sticky situation.
"It's more difficult for our parents. They shout for Keith when he's playing and me when I'm playing. On Sunday they've got divided loyalty so they really can't win," Brian quipped.
"Mam wouldn't normally go unless it was a county final so I'm not sure what she's going to do, maybe she should just stay at home.
"Dad is really caught between two stools. It's a no-win situation and lads are looking at him during a match for a reaction to see who he's favouring."
"For the parents' sake we better just get it out of the way and make sure it's not a draw," Keith added wryly. "They're like dogs chasing their tails. It's bad enough that my mother hasn't slept for the week.
The small window of opportunity to play or at least train on the same side is something both men would have enjoyed. Brian's inter-county career was praised upon retirement last November - however, not without a sting in the tail in typical GAA style. "He retired at 8am and at 8pm that same day I got a call to come in training with Kilkenny. He was 12 hours early." Keith said.
The game will start and finish with a handshake but even that is awkward, "I can't even wish him good luck and mean it. If he has a great game it's going to be at my expense," Brian said.
No matter what happens, blood will still be thicker than the Tom Walsh Cup at 5pm tomorrow with Keith concluding: "True men shake hands at the end and I don't think we'll be falling out or anything."
"There's so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones"
Dire Straits - 'Brothers in Arms'