Late starter Hogan has no plans to finish early 

At 30, the Birmingham striker bucks the trend in Stephen Kenny's attacking corps. He's intent on repaying manager's faith
Late starter Hogan has no plans to finish early 

In fine form: Scott Hogan during a Republic of Ireland training session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Pic: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

So, Ireland is a country with room for older men, as Scott Hogan’s resurrection under Stephen Kenny exemplifies.

Popular belief would have it that the strikeforce under the current regime is the preserve of graduates Kenny promoted from his U21s, including Troy Parrott, Adam Idah, Michael Obafemi and Aaron Connolly.

Although the latter pair were blooded at senior level before the incumbent’s elevation, their age bracket of 22 or under is a reservoir of years and experience away from Hogan.

He’s 30, a year older than Will Keane and one younger than James Clarke, yet unlike those pair, a survivor of various culls by the manager.

Hogan was entitled to wonder if the international career which began late had finished early on 10 caps.

Even he was surprised, therefore, that a first competitive start for three years was afforded by Kenny for the most recent Nations League game against Ukraine in June.

"As you get older, you think 'I'm not performing at club level, is this going to come around again?',” says the Birmingham City attacker. "It was just totally unexpected. I hadn’t played that much for Birmingham towards the end of the season, hardly starting a game, so it was out of the blue. That just showed there’s always a way back in, as we’ve seen with Robbie Brady returning too.” 

Kenny’s calculated risk in Lodz in the final leg of the four-game Nations League June series yielded mixed results, for Hogan was hauled off on the hour with the game at 1-1. Retrospectively, the manager cited the physical demands on a player lacking a string of club games for his bluntness in attack. Hogan concurs.

“I was a yard off the pace,” he admits, quantifying the chasm. “Just speaking to the manager this week, he said if that Ukraine game was tomorrow, it would be a totally different story. As a professional athlete, you stay in shape but there comes a point that you need to play regularly to be up to speed.

“Ukraine were a good side so I felt that I struggled physically. It was quite humid but there’s no excuses. I hadn’t been playing regularly and it affected my fitness levels. It was a big step-up after not playing and it caught me out, I must admit. It’s just a reminder of having to play regular football to be at that level.” 

Fortunately, that deficit has been rectified for the betterment of Hogan, Birmingham and Ireland. He reported into camp ahead of Saturday's assignment in Scotland with a hat-trick freshly pocketed.

That rose his haul to five goals in 10 outings for Brum, illustrating his blossoming partnership with Troy Deeney and underlining the bounce he’s gained from a change of manager. His new boss, John Eustace, briefly flanked Kenny as a coach this year, working with his future club striker in the March and June windows.

“This is the first time that I feel happy for five years," beamed the Salford native, a €15m purchase by Aston Villa in 2017. "I try to keep myself in a steady state regardless but there were highs and then lows. And looking back you’re thinking: is there a way that I can stay in that steady state? But I try not to think too much about it. I can't change what's happened.

"I don't like to think that I've peaked, moreso that I'm improving. I feel comfortable. I'm allowed to be myself and the main thing is that I'm finally happy.

"I'm 30 now and around this time you generally peak, they say, but I'm hoping that I keep going. I look after myself and hopefully this is just the start."

For Hogan to figure in the Celtic derby, he’ll have to brush off competition from Kenny's colony of cubs. His best chance of inclusion hinges on the manager keeping faith with the 3-5-2 formation deployed last time out but, regardless of system, firepower cannot be ignored.

It’s high time he transferred it onto the international fray to break his duck.

“Strikers are judged on goals and I failed in that aspect over the past few years,” he confessed. “Goals mean everything to strikers, otherwise you would not be a striker. I’d be disappointed, yet not feel hard done, if I don’t start by because the lads before me have performed to a high standard.

“The two lads who played against Scotland (Obafemi and Parrott) were outstanding, while Callum Robinson has scored plenty of goals for us.” 

 While his modesty is admirable, ruthlessness is the commodity Ireland most requires from Hogan.

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