Brian Hogan treasures the All-Ireland medal which he won last year — starting at centre-back but dropping back to the edge of the square after Noel Hickey went off injured — but he will never forget what happened four years ago.
It was his debut game, playing alongside Peter Barry, with his (O’Loughlins) club-mate Sean Dowling on the other wing. He remembers it as a “baptism of fire”. And, before Kilkenny got back to the All-Ireland final through the backdoor, he had lost his place. One year later he was again pushing for a place and didn’t have any better luck in 2006, but he never lost hope. “That’s just the way it is in Kilkenny. Every year is history and you’re hurling on your current form,’’ he said, accepting he was losing out because “the other guys were hurling better”. To the outsider, that might be hard to accept, but Hogan points out that the players readily accept the situation as it is — regarding it as an incentive more than a hindrance to making progress.
“The position is there and it’s a clean sheet every year. Even during the year, if a guy’s form dips and there’s another guy that’s playing better and deserves a shot and you know that, it brings credit when you know you’re there as a sub. You’re there for a reason and you will get a chance. It’s up to you to get your own performance right and you will get a shot then.’’
In his own situation, he recognises that he has to keep justifying his selection at centre-back — recognising it as a pivotal position and being aware of the history of some great players who have played there in modern times (Peter Barry among them). The reality is that “there’s pressure” no matter what position you fill in the team, that there is “no God-given right” to be one of the starting 15.
At the same time, he is conscious that this should not be a deterrent to him when he’s out on the field and, it’s no different for all the other players. The way they see it, this type of pressure is coming from within, not directly from the management.
“From your own performance point of view you just have to keep it going and keep focused. There’s no one really guaranteed a position, (except) maybe one or two lads. But generally speaking, he (Cody) always says that every match starts from a clean sheet and the team will pick itself from the training leading up to it.’’ Translated into action on the field, the management philosophy could be said to be reflected in the performances of the players who were introduced as substitutes in the semi-final game — which they won by a margin of 18 points. And, while some people might claim that Kilkenny delight in inflicting heavy defeats on Offaly and Wexford, Hogan says that it’s simply a case of players coming on to the team “having an agenda”. “They want to start the next day. They’re trying to impress. They came in and they were driven because they’re saying, ‘I want to start the next day.’ That’s where it comes from. Guys want to start and from a personal point of view guys want to get the scores. It’s not anything against Offaly or Wexford.”
Returning to that 2004 Leinster semi-final result, if Kilkenny derive so much drive and enthusiasm from losing, he can only imagine what it means to Wexford players.
“They must really be bursting out of their jerseys to beat Kilkenny at this stage. I know a few of the lads and I know that they’re fierce competitive and they’re top hurlers — and they’re not going to be listening to bookies and listening to statistics and this, that and the other.
“They’re going to be listening to their hearts and on Sunday when they see us standing in front of them for a Leinster title. They’re going to do everything in their power to get past us.’’