Hogan brings Empire State of mind to Croker

WHEN Eddie Hogan emigrated to New York in 1985, he was leaving behind a different kind of famine.

It was less about life or death but for his native Tipperary, it was almost as serious. Not since 1971 had the Premier County won a Munster title and when, as a raw 19-year-old, he lined out at corner back against Waterford in the 1983 semi-final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the talented youngster was given a reality check, on what was his senior debut.

“Welcome to the real world,” a certain veteran opponent seemed to say to him.

That’s how Hogan remembers it anyway. The Déise icon Jim Greene trotted into corner-forward that day in the midst of an Indian summer. In his pocket was an All Star from 1982. Hogan joined the trophy there before half-time.

“It was a roasting,” Hogan tells me, flinching at the memory.

But it wasn’t all bad in the Tipp colours. A dual Tipp minor, he and his good friend Ken Hogan (same club, Roscrea, no relation) captured the minor All-Ireland hurling crown in 1980 in Croker, the same day the West awoke for Galway’s senior hurlers. Also on the Tipp team which beat Wexford side was Nicky English.

In spite of it all, they weren’t to know that the breakthrough was almost a decade away.

Before he packed his bags, there were other hurling setbacks for Hogan.

He, goalkeeper Hogan and English carried on together to Under-21 level where they were joined by the likes of Colm Bonnar and Paddy Maher, father of another full-back, Padraic.

Despite two Munster titles in-a-row, 1983 and 1984, they were denied in both All-Ireland finals by Galway and Kilkenny respectively, a sign of things to come at senior level.

But precipitated by a broken wrist and broken dreams, Hogan would never taste those bitter defeats at the biggest stage in 1987 and 1988. The furthest thing from his mind was Croke Park as he left Roscrea with two U21 county medals and enough of a sense of accomplishment to try pastures new.

If you had told him then that his Croke Park story had another chapter, that there was more to come, he wouldn’t have believed you.

Because this Saturday, 31 years after he lined out as a Tipperary hurler in Dublin’s northside, he will make the return journey with his New York minor footballers when they face Roscommon in a Connacht MFC curtain-raiser to the Division 3 and 4 finals.

He will bring with him his New York-born sons, Shane and Eddie, along with water-carrier and New York senior Conor who will also face Roscommon eight days later back in the Bronx in the senior showdown.

When headquarters first rang him last week to break the news that Saturday’s clash had been switched to Jones Road, he had just found out that Shane might have broken his wrist.

It turned out to be a sprain but he was in no fit state to receive news that his side would be the first representatives of the New York County Board to line out in Croke Park since 1985, the same year he left Ireland.

“I didn’t believe him,” Hogan tells me laughing. “I told him to stop busting my balls. He said ‘excuse me?’. My son’s in the ER and my mind is racing and here’s the fella ringing me up within 10 minutes. I couldn’t get my head around it.”

And so began a week of pranks from workmates in the New York building trade. It got to the stage where he was afraid to answer his phone for fear of another trap being laid by so-called Irish reporters ringing from New York numbers.

I personally logged five phone calls (three of which were cut off, I just know!), two text messages, two voicemails and two desperate pleas to the New York minor board chairman Danny McKenna.

Hogan eventually checked himself with McKenna, before ringing me back late Monday evening as I was about to research the possibility of writing a column about Boston Marathon winner, Geoffrey Mutai on the fly. Or the New York Knicks. Yep, that’s how close we came.

But maybe that’s what gets these guys to the top. Experience — and its close ally mistrust — are valuable tools when battling for a breakthrough with a team of youngsters, all of whom are New York-born.

Hogan will draw on the experience of a Féile final in Clones three years ago which his players, seven of whom will line out Saturday, lost in “double overtime”, as he describes it.

And he’ll remember his own moment in the sun in 1980 when, as if the nerves weren’t bad enough, a procession of Tipp legends were brought into the dressing room before throw-in.

“Jimmy Doyle gave us a speech, Michael Maher too. We’re looking up at these guys, our hurling idols. We were young fellas in awe — as if it wasn’t hard enough to keep calm. So I’ve been talking to our guys every night at training, trying to remind them that it’s just another game. We can’t be in awe of the place and go into a trance.

“But it will be a special day.”

* Contact: john.w.riordan@gmail.com; Twitter: JohnWRiordan

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