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'I haven’t been involved with Stoke, we're bottom of the Championship - who would pick me?'

Scott Hogan was surprised to be included in the Irish squad, but he is determined to prove he belongs there.

“I haven’t been involved at all with Stoke, we are bottom of the Championship. Who would pick me?” Irish striker Scott Hogan told the media during a press conference of admirable candour. 

scott-hogan Scott Hogan at Irish training this week. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Last week, when Mick McCarthy announced his squad for these Euro 2020 qualifiers and initially omitted all of the forwards from the U21s squad, Hogan’s name drew unwanted attention.

Aaron Connolly hadn’t been called up yet, and since last month’s international camp, Hogan had played the sum total of zero minutes for Stoke City, a side sliding slowly to the bottom of the Championship. 

McCarthy is loyal albeit not blindly – he defended Hogan’s inclusion by pointing to his impact as a substitute across the campaign. Ireland have forced late equalisers against Denmark and Switzerland in the group so far, and the pursuit of the draw began on both occasions with McCarthy introducing Hogan as a second striker. 

“Well if the manager says so, then I agree with him!” grinned Hogan. 

Nonetheless, being adjacent to big moments isn’t nearly enough for him. 

“I’ve been limited to substitute appearances, but I started three games, two of them friendlies. The first one I should have scored in. I played against Gibraltar and had chances to score and then…It’s just not gone in yet and it’s not happened and there’s no getting away from that.

Once you get your goal, it relieves a lot of pressure. You look at James Collins’ last game, he comes on and scores [against Bulgaria] and that’s brilliant for him, you can see it in him. That’s a brilliant feeling for him, I want that feeling. So, I’ve got to try and somehow get that feeling. I’ve just got to work hard and it’ll come. I set myself high standards, and I don’t think I’ve come anywhere near them at international level. And I expect to score goals every time I step on the pitch.

“I haven’t scored. I don’t like that. Maybe I have affected the games I’ve come on in and maybe that’s why I’m still in the squad, because I didn’t expect to be in the squad.” 

Here’s telling of Hogan’s luckless run at club level. Last season, he played for two of the three sides that went up to the Premier League, and now he is on the fringes of the side at the bottom of the Championship. He was among the Irish contingent at Sheffield United to be promoted last season, spending the second half of the season on loan from parent club Aston Villa. 

Neither kept hold of him, though, and so he has been loaned to Stoke. Hogan joined Villa midway through the 2016/17 season, having caught fire at Brentford with a run of 13 goals in 18 games. In 61 appearances for Villa, he’s only managed 10 goals. 

“I had two years or so at Villa which, being honest, was terrible from my point. It was as bad as it gets”, said Hogan. 

“But that is what it is and you’ve got to move on. I just want to play consistent football now. The more I play, the more I’ll score. I’ll back myself to do that, so if I can get somewhere where I’m going to play regularly, then that’s great for me because when I play regular football, I tend to score goals throughout my career.

“It’s just about nailing a spot down now in the team and scoring the goals that get us up the table of whatever it may be, and then who knows going forward, maybe create a nice little home there for myself, do well and score goals again and maybe get a bit more of a buzz back around my name.

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“Since going to Villa, it’s pretty much gone.”

The Villa experience drained him of confidence. 

“I had no confidence whatsoever after about six months. I just wasn’t doing the things I do naturally. You’re thinking about things in the game, you’re thinking, ‘I should go there’ but then you think, ‘If I do go there, I could lose it and they could go and score, then everyone is looking at me.’ It takes a while to come back, and the only way it comes back is through playing and scoring.” 

Hogan hasn’t been getting that chance at Stoke, although that changed last weekend. With manager Nathan Jones’ position on life-support, Hogan was left out of the matchday squad for a clash with high-flying Swansea.

swansea-city-v-stoke-city-sky-bet-championship-liberty-stadium Hogan is buried beneath team-mates after scoring against Swansea. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

The striker vented his feelings known to sports scientist Jared Roberts-Smith, and in proof that Hogan’s confidence hasn’t vanished entirely, told him that he would score had he been included.

Ahead of the game, Jones came to him to verify what had filtered through. 

Jones slammed his fist on the table, told Hogan to get his gear and get on the team bus, brought him on for the final 25 minutes…and watched Hogan score a last-minute winner. 

“10 minutes before the bus was leaving, the manager pulled me into the office and said, ‘Jared’s come over to me and said you’ve said this to him’.

“And I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve said that’. And then he sort of slammed his hand on the table and was like – I can’t use the language – but, ‘Get on the bus, get your gear, you’re travelling’. 

“I was on the bench and came on and scored. But, yeah, I sort of had a little go at him and it worked out.” 

A similar impact for Ireland this week and nobody will be questioning Scott Hogan’s international inclusion anytime soon. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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