You might think that the build-up to a major championship match is like being caught in the eye of a storm, but for Richie Hogan it’s a quieter time than if he were training!
“The week before a match isn’t the most stressful time,” said the Danesfort man. “We usually have our last really hard training session about a week before the game, then you ease off.
“You’d hope to have most of your work done by then,” he added. “You need to relax a bit and get a bit more rest in the build-up to the game.”
Making good use of his time is vital for Hogan, who has just completed a Masters in Business Management at DCU. Still living in Dublin, his sporting life revolves around the clock.
“On evenings when you’ve training you’re rushing to get something to eat before getting on the road early so you avoid the traffic,” he said. “You might also have to collect a few other lads along the way so we try to reach Kilkenny an hour before training so we’ve time to stretch.
“When you’re travelling long distances you can’t just hop out of a car and start training within a short while - you’ll pull a muscle or do some sort of damage. You have to be there in plenty of time so you can get loosened up and warmed up prior to training.”
Clock up the miles
Hogan is not alone in this. Many hurlers and footballers have to clock up the miles travelling from work to training, but he feels the county players are luckier than their club counterparts.
“It’s not that hard on us,” he admitted. “With the county side you’re guaranteed large numbers at training, whereas clubs might only have 12 or 13 players present at times when they get together.
“Travelling 180 miles to have a few pucks and running, things you could do in Dublin,” he added.
“At least when we go home there’s 30-35 players at training. You’re guaranteed to be wrecked tired when you’re driving back!”
And after a tough slog in training, there’s the long trek home afterwards.
“The odd time you might not be back in Dublin until midnight,” he said. “Then, when you get out of the car you wouldn’t be able to get to sleep straight away. It might be another hour before you unwind. You’ve spent the whole trip back up talking about sport with the other lads in the car while also trying to get the carbohydrates into your body and drinking protein shakes which keep you awake.
“It’s hard to switch off and relax, so from that point match weeks aren’t as stressful on your body.”
Players might spend the week before a game studying the opposition, but that’s something Kilkenny won’t have to worry about too much this time around.
“A few years ago we barely got a game against Galway - now it seems we’re playing them the most often,” he said when reminded that Sunday’s Leinster semi-final will be the fourth time the sides have met this year.
“We don’t have to check the opposition a lot this time,” he said. “Galway’s game against Laois was a tough one, but I’d imagine they’ll give us a hard battle.”
However, Hogan believes the championship game will be a world away from their Walsh Cup and two NHL meetings.
Difference in pace
“There’s such a difference in terms of pace in the league and championship,” he said. “The opening minutes in a championship game are crazy - there’s lads flying in all over the place.
“It was the same in the Offaly game,” he added. “It’s not the kind of stuff that you would do in the league, but in the championship your heart seems to take over! It’s all about getting a good start.”
A good start was exactly what the Cats got when they roared past Offaly a fortnight ago.
“We had the wind in the first half which made a big difference,” Hogan offered. “If the team who has the elements can get a good start then it can be hard to drag lads back, but even after 15 minutes there wasn’t a whole lot in it. Once we got the goal and then added a few points we really began to get on top.
“The funny thing is that if you push on you can win by a lot; if you don’t you can get pulled back,” he said. “That happened us against Wexford in the league quarter-final. We were well ahead before half-time but didn’t push on.
“Another couple of scores would have made things easier for us but they got a few point or two and then snuck in for a goal, which meant we were only a point up at half-time.
“The same happened against Tipp in the league final,” he added. “We got off to a good start but Tipp came back and dominated. If you don’t push on you leave yourself at the risk of being caught. We pushed on against Offaly and had such a lead going in half-time that we knew as long as we kept going we would have been safe.”
That massive win over Offaly was like a return to Kilkenny’s form of old.
“We got off to a poor start against Offaly this time last year,” he said, recalling the Leinster clash in Tullamore. “We didn’t go up with the wrong attitude - Offaly came out with fierce intensity and had the crowd behind them. If you let a team build a lead it can be difficult to get the better of them, whether they’re a club or county team.
“We were really disappointed with that,” he said. “It set the tone for the rest of the championship, as we struggled a bit.
“This year we were intent on making a good start, winning by as much as we could. We wanted to dominate the game as best we could.
“We just want to win every match that we play in,” he continued. “However, you can’t look beyond your next game or you will be caught. Maybe that’s the lesson we learned from last year.”
That’s the way it will be for Sunday -
Galway in Tullamore. There is no looking further.
“You have to look at the game that’s up next and not beyond it,” the Danesfort man reiterated. “We went up against Galway a few years ago and were beaten very heavily in a Leinster final (in 2012 Galway beat the Cats by 2-21 to 2-11) we were expected to win.
“It’s never simple when you play Galway,” he added. “They have hurlers who have won some great All-Irelands at under-21 level, so they have plenty of talent. They’ll be in a perfect position coming into Sunday’s match game as they’ll be mad for the game.
“We’ll have to step it up and dominate from the start.”