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'It was disappointing last year but you can't carry that with you forever' - Richie Hogan's redemption song

15 months after he was sent off in the All-Ireland final, Richie Hogan arrived off the bench to help steal the Leinster title for Kilkenny.

Kilkenny's Richie Hogan in action against Galway's Eanna Murphy and Shane Cooney.
Kilkenny's Richie Hogan in action against Galway's Eanna Murphy and Shane Cooney.
Image: Ken Sutton/INPHO

A TALE OF two contrasting days in Croke Park. 

15 months ago, Richie Hogan’s last act in the All-Ireland final was to line up Cathal Barrett for a shoulder on the sideline, only to catch the Tipperary defender with a stray elbow as he jinked inside. 

It connected enough for referee James Owens to produce a red card, ending Hogan’s day and, as it turned out, Kilkenny’s challenge. 

“They spoke about your arm not being down by your side,” Hogan later protested. “This is not Irish dancing. We have hurleys in our hands, how do we hold a 36-inch hurley without bending your arm?

“I don’t want the All-Ireland final to be ruined by controversy over a particular incident. I mean, I will never speak about it again. We’ll just get up and get on with it.”

Riddled with persistant injuries that hampered the latter half of his career, Hogan admitted that “it would’ve been a nice way to maybe sign off” had Kilkenny lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

Such was the extent of the back and knee problems he carried into the game, he started his warm-up two hours and 15 minutes before throw-in began to ensure he could take the field.

“I don’t want to finish like that. Maybe it’s a good thing. Probably that decision I would have had to make in the winter has probably been made already for me. So I think I owe it to myself to do whatever I can to play again.”

When he woke up this morning, Hogan was surely thanking his lucky stars he decided to throw his lot in for 2020. In a way the pandemic worked in his favour, giving his body some much-needed rest after a relentless 15 years on the inter-county hamster wheel.

“He got a break, the body got a break. I firmly believe that and I would have said it to him as well,” said Brian Cody.

“Because he’s a player, he doesn’t hold back when he’s injured. He won’t just lie down, even for a serious enough injury. He’ll keep going. He’s a fighter. So he hasn’t minded the body from the point of view of sitting back when he’s injured, ‘I can’t play’. He’s not like that. He always wants to play and definitely he’s moving freely.”  

On a night where Kilkenny’s twin tower pairing of Colin Fennelly and Walter Walsh were tied down by the Galway rearguard, Cody looked to his bench and summoned the 2014 Hurler of the Year.

He arrived into the Leinster final on 44 minutes and initially took a while before he dialled up to the temperature of the game. Hogan’s first decisive impact was with a deft handpass for Martin Keoghan’s shot that whistled narrowly wide of Eanna Murphy’s goal. 

Galway dealt with the high ball all night, but Kilkenny started to find some joy when the ball was sprayed in low in front of Hogan. Galway had ruled the skies, only for Hogan to take the fight to the ground.

When Kilkenny needed him most, he grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. He had no right to win the ball that went into the danger zone, using all his genius to somehow control it and set himself up for a volleyed finish.

What made it most impressive was that he made it look so easy, like a youngster messing about with his mates in the schoolyard.

Daithi Burke, Eanna Murphy, Shane Cooney and Gearoid McInerney were left looking on in amazement.

“I’d say it was more Richie brought something different to the full-forward line to what was actually happening,” said Galway boss Shane O’Neill.

“It was just that small spell really with the two very quick goals and that’s something we’ll have to look at.”

tj-reid TJ Reid soaks it in after the final whistle. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Hogan’s movement created space for Reid in front of the D. The Ballyhale maestro sidestepped Joseph Cooney and there was only going to be one outcome as he bore down on Murphy’s goal.

Bang, bang.

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From five points behind to one in front in a matter of seconds. Kilkenny have lost none of their ruthless streak.

There was still time for more Hogan heroics as Galway retook the lead. He got himself in behind the Tribe rearguard again, flashing a strike just over the bar. Judging by his reaction, he had goal on his mind once again.

Fittingly, Hogan had the last say. His 71st minute point from way out on the Cusack Stand side was ambitious, but this was his night. He knew it was over a long time before it sailed between the posts.

“That’s what substitutes are for,” said Cody. “If you bring in a player, if at all possible it’s to make an impact, to make a difference. I think it’s fair to say they did that.

“Richie was very influential, there’s no doubt about that when he came in,” he continued.

“You’re talking about a real experienced player and a player who has given great service for certain. It’s terrific that Richie has had an uninterrupted kind of a year with injury.

“He’s one of the players in the country who has benefited from the lack of competitive games over the year because he’s had a free run to get injury free and he definitely contributed really, really powerfully when he came on.”

No Kilkenny man will ever say winning a Leinster final makes up for an All-Ireland defeat, but there’s not doubting it was a redemptive moment on a personal level for Hogan.

“I mean Richie Hogan has been hurling for years at the top level and every day he goes out, he goes out to perform,” said Cody. “Was it disappointing last year?

“Of course it was disappointing last year but you can’t carry that with you forever either. He went out to perform as well as he possibly could for the team and he did that.”

brian-cody Kiikenny manager Brian Cody before the game. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

At 32, Hogan is the same age as TJ Reid who is well on his way to sitting on Kilkenny’s Mount Rushmore alongside Henry Shefflin and DJ Carey.

Hogan was the prodigious underage talent and would likely have more than four All-Stars had his body not started to break down from his late 20s.

Reid was the late bloomer, who considered quitting in 2012 after repeatedly being whipped off in big games, until he blossomed into a fearsome physical specimen and dead-eye shooter.

Reid is rarely injured while Hogan has spent much of the last few seasons battling various ailments. His ability to make the ball talk has never been questioned.

Young guns like Conor Browne, Eoin Cody and Martin Keoghan certainly played their part, but Reid and Hogan were front and centre here, hitting 2-12 between them.

“They seemed to certainly create better space and that I suppose but lookit, everybody, the players who came off had worked really, really hard as well.

“It’s not a question of some lads not doing their job, the panel is there to be used and everything else. It doesn’t go brilliantly for everybody ever, but the fellas who fought and kept going and did all they could while they were there were equally as important.”

For Cody, it meant a 16th Leinster title but he was never going to look at it like that.

“It’s this year’s Leinster final. And of course it’s sweet. A lot of the players there it’s probably their first Leinster title which shows it does matter very, very much. And after all of that, we’re Leinster champions. That matters.”

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien  / reports from Croke Park

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