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Dublin: 16 °C Sunday 31 May, 2020

Opinion: In defence of Scott Hogan's belated decision to declare for Ireland

There has been a mixed reaction to confirmation today that Aston Villa star was applying for an Irish passport.

Scott Hogan (file pic).
Scott Hogan (file pic).
Image: Nick Potts

SCOTT HOGAN HAS yet to kick a ball for Ireland and he has already received more flak than many players receive over the course of an entire international career.

The Salford native qualifies to represent the Boys in Green through his grandparents and he has recently applied for an Irish passport, according to newspaper reporters today.

There tends to be a mixed reception when Hogan’s name is mentioned among Irish fans on social media, and it’s fair to say some are suspicious of the player’s motives, particularly given the length of time he took to declare for Ireland.

Yet such criticism is deeply unfair to the player and perhaps reflects symptoms of fatigue and cynicism among Irish fans emanating from the Jack Grealish saga more than anything else. Below, we look at some of the complaints that have been made about Hogan (highlighted in bold) and place them in their proper context.

The fact that he’s taken his time on the decision means he’s not really that bothered about playing for Ireland.

This is a very presumptuous claim, and contradicts Martin O’Neill’s latest comments.

“He’s keen, he’s very keen,” O’Neill told reporters yesterday. “I want the players to have a genuine enthusiasm for playing for the Republic of Ireland because I don’t want to lose that.”

Hogan has never expressed reservations about playing for Ireland and so deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt.

He should only be judged by his performances on the pitch rather than unsubstantiated claims, and provided he always gives 100% for Ireland, is entitled to the respect afforded to every other member of the squad.

He’s rubbish. We’ve plenty of strikers better than him.

Another highly contentious claim. Hogan scored 15 goals in the Championship last season — more than the combined tally of Daryl Murphy and David McGoldrick.

Moreover, while his Aston Villa career hasn’t gone exactly as planned so far, the Championship club rated him highly enough to pay a fee that could reach £12 million (€13m) according to the BBC. And there’s every chance he can rediscover the type of goalscoring form he showed at Brentford now that he’s had some time to adapt to new surroundings.

And perhaps most importantly, at 25, Hogan, along with Sean Maguire, is a rare instance of a relatively young Irish striker playing at a decent level.

By contrast, the other strikers in the current squad — David McGoldrick (29), Daryl Murphy (34), Shane Long (30), Kevin Doyle (33) and Jonathan Walters (33) — as talented as they are, are not exactly ‘ones for the future’.

Amid an ostensible dearth in top-quality strikers coming through in Ireland and across Europe generally, Hogan provides the Boys in Green with some much-needed cover in this regard.

He was waiting for a call-up from England and only declared for us when he realised he wasn’t good enough.

Again, this seems to be very unfair and contrary to claims made by O’Neill. Even as an extremely promising Championship striker, Hogan was surely enough of a realist to know that he was hardly a candidate for an England call-up anytime soon.

O’Neill’s suggestion that the player needed time to regain confidence following a serious injury seems a convincing alternative explanation.

Between August 2014 and March 2016, Hogan did not kick a ball for Brentford after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

It’s understandable that Hogan would be wary of over-extending himself after suffering such a serious injury and that only now he has managed to put a decent run of games together at club level, the Villa star finally feels ready for the added burden of international football.

Such behaviour is entirely justifiable. A player’s body is his livelihood and he needs to manage it in the most rationale and appropriate manner possible in order to maximise its long-term potential.

Hogan was perhaps unwise to publicly express interest in playing for Ireland as far back as May 2016, when he was quoted as saying: “Roy Keane was at Huddersfield on Saturday apparently and if Roy Keane rang me up, I couldn’t say no to Roy Keane. He is one of my heroes.”

These comments were probably ill-advised, given they would have gotten Irish supporters’ hopes up, creating expectations of a more immediate official declaration. However, Hogan is not the first footballer to say something unwise in an interview and he should not be punished unduly for one slight error of judgement.

It’s a joke that we’re relying on foreign-born players such as him and shows how poor our underage system is.

Ireland’s success for years has owed a lot to foreign-born players. Anyone who has supported the team in the past is a hypocrite if they suddenly think Scott Hogan is not fit to wear the green jersey.

There is a fairly strong chance that players such as Ray Houghton, John Aldridge, Jason McAteer, Matt Holland and Jon Walters at one point dreamed of representing the country of their birth, but that did not stop them performing admirably for Ireland on a regular basis.

While Hogan may not turn out to be as integral as the players mentioned above, there is no legitimate reason to suspect he won’t play with as much passion and enthusiasm should he be given the chance to wear the green jersey.

And while there is clearly room for improvement in coaching systems in Ireland and across Europe given the lack of top-class strikers coming through, it would be pointless punishing Hogan or urging Martin O’Neill to refrain from picking the best players available to him owing to this institutional failing.

Choosing all eligible players will undoubtedly enhance Ireland’s chance of success in the long run and ensure there is a greater interest in/appetite for playing the game in this country, thus improving the overall standard at every level ultimately.

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Paul Fennessy

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