Tuesday 20 March 2018

Hogan the heir to King Henry's throne

Richie Hogan, Kilkenny
Richie Hogan, Kilkenny
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The biggest statement on Richie Hogan's progression as a senior member of the Kilkenny cabinet came, not through spoken words, but the simple imprint of his name on the team sheet for last year's All-Ireland final.

It wasn't so much Hogan's name, as where it was scrawled that allowed him to don the mortar board and gown for graduation day. The doctorate was complete, the team sheet was like his very own parchment declaring his status.

Hogan had missed the All-Ireland semi-final rout of Tipperary with a finger injury, but with Michael Rice gone for the final, a vacancy arose, presenting the management with their opportunity to get him back in without breaking up a functioning attack.

Having him on the field was paramount to Brian Cody for that day, even if it was out of his most natural domain.

But, a natural hurler he has always been and the young man who did scoreboard duties in Nowlan Park growing up while following the fortunes of his second cousin DJ Carey, was given the most ringing endorsement of his career.


"It was most important for Brian to get Richie on the field. He was one of those guys," recalled Carey.

Opinions differ as to how that brief venture at midfield worked out. Carey would argue that if some of the shots he took, especially in the first half, had gone the distance and stayed on course it could have been quite a sensational performance.

But the general consensus was that Iarla Tannian had bossed it for too long.

For the replay Hogan had switched into full-forward where he picked off three points and was viewed as the man of the match in some quarters.

Over the spring league campaign the advancement in his game continued to the point where most keen Kilkenny observers feel the mantle of team leader looks likely to pass to him when Henry Shefflin finally departs.

"He really revels when Henry is not about. Maybe subconsciously he takes on more responsibility. We're coming to a point now when Henry is not there and we need something, Richie is the man that is coming up with it and whether that is getting ball or chasing down an opponent, he is taking on that leader's mantle," said Carey.

"I think after Henry, when he's available, Richie is now the next man printed into the attack," added Carey, the undisputed pre-Shefflin leader himself.

Was it always that way for Hogan? He may have his doctorate now, but even attaining degree status involved patience and a process.

For one whose fortitude and commitment is beyond reproach to such a degree now, there was a feeling in the early and middle parts of his career that Hogan had a bit of convincing to do that there was more than just a silky touch, an eye for goal and a rich pedigree to him. His father Sean was a hurler of renown with John Locke's of Callan and on his mother's side was the link to Carey. The Hogans, like their second cousin, were champion handballers too.

His footprint across various Kilkenny league and championship teams in the first three years reflected that reluctance to elevate him in accordance with his natural talent alone. Richie Power had faced a similar introduction years earlier.

There was no shortage of speculation in the build-up to the 2007 All-Ireland final against Limerick that the then 19-year-old would be sprung from left field.

It didn't materialise, but even the suggestion pointed to a fast-tracking in future years.

That didn't materialise either and as Kilkenny pursued five-in-a-row he had to bide his time, starting just three of their 12 championship games from 2008 to 2010. The league was a more fertile ground for opportunity, but even then his contributions ebbed and flowed.

He was whipped off in the middle of the 2009 campaign in the games against Limerick and Clare, but the final against Tipperary in Thurles was the day that he really served notice of his talent on the inter-county stage.

"Henry was sent off that day and Richie just came into his own. He scored 1-10," acknowledged former great Eddie Keher. The performance wasn't good enough to earn him regular starts however and he made it on a first 15 just once more that season in the All-Ireland final against Tipperary.

"He came in at a tough time for a young Kilkenny player," Keher added. "The team was so strong in 2008 and 2009. It's easy to be intimidated, in a way, by the players around you."

The 2011 league was where he really dug deep foundations for himself that couldn't subsequently be dislodged.

Derek Lyng and Martin Comerford had retired and opportunities cropped up as injuries hit hard.

Hogan's performances became more physical, more workmanlike in this campaign. He scored 0-10 against Tipperary and Cork, 0-7 against Waterford, six against Wexford. It was his time to take on responsibility and for the championship there was no dislodging him.

He scored four goals in four championship games, with Keher left in no doubt that his All-Ireland final goal was "just about the best I've ever seen."

For Keher the ability to hang in the air and catch a ball as he does is one of the great features of his game.

"For someone who is relatively not very tall, it is extraordinary how he can fight and win a ball," stated Keher.

Like prop forwards of old in rugby, Kilkenny players are always given that bit more time to mature. Hogan is now at the peak of his career and the temperature gauge for Kilkenny's attack against Dublin on Sunday.

Irish Independent

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