HE HAD been out of the inter-county loop for nearly seven months, but new Kilkenny hurling captain, Brian Hogan, turned in a performance par excellence to mark his return.
The O’Loughlin-Gaels clubman felt the sharp pain of defeat in the All-Ireland club final less than two weeks ago. However, in his first game for Kilkenny since last August’s All-Ireland semi-final against Cork when he injured his shoulder which led to him missing the final, he played with such authority, power and strength it was as if he had never been away.
“It was nice to get the jersey back on and to get back playing,” the 29-year-old told the ’People after Sunday’s exciting National League win over Waterford.
“Getting back playing with Kilkenny will help me get over the disappointment of the club final.”
Hogan may have taken a few minutes to find the pace and touch of the inter-county game again, but two powerful catches at centre-back during the opening half, one of which was followed by a daring long range effort for a point, marked his return in spectacular fashion.
“Winning was the important thing,” he answered when it was suggested his own performance was very impressive. “We made hard work of it, but we showed the character that we knew is there.
Important to push on
“It was important when we got ahead nearing the finish that we pushed on to win. It is always important to show character, not only to reinforce your own self belief but to show to others that you are still strong mentally as well as in other ways. When you lose other counties can see it as a weakness.
“A strong performance like this was one from us was important in lots of ways, in what it means to us and the message it sends out. We are looking to try and build during the ’League. That is what the ’League is for.
“The selectors are trying out new players as they try to build the team for the championship.”
That was the long term aim. For the new skipper, he wouldn’t mind an appearance in the ’League final.
“That is the immediate goal,” he announced. “Had we lost to Waterford we were gone. We will try and push on after this win, but we have another big, must win game against Dublin next weekend.
“This is a good time of year to be getting good, testing matches. The way the ’League is set up now you can’t afford to lose many matches or you will be out of the reckoning. You have to look after your own results. You can’t be relying on a run of results elsewhere to get you into the League final. You have to do it for yourself.
“There is nothing like winning to breed confidence and to keep a strong momentum going.”
The medical representative with Grunenthal Pharma said he never thought about the role of captain before the game, or what he might say to the players. Anyway, he smiled, the players would only laugh if he started talking to them about what to do.
“The most of them have been around long enough to know what to do,” he said on that issue. “The way I look at it is that I have to go out and get my performance right. You can be captain, but if you are not performing you won’t be picked.
Wear jersey with pride
“You wear the jersey with pride. You do your best and you always want to win. To wear the jersey is what you dream about. What follows after that will follow? The primary thing is to perform so you can keep your place.”
Hogan insisted that a determined showing like Sunday’s would fuel the ambition for all in the squad to drive on.
“We have been on the go, winning for a long time,” he continued. “We have been used to winning. The defeat in the All-Ireland final last year helped to recharge the batteries and motive us again. It was a huge disappointment. That is sport. You will lose more than you win, unfortunately.
“But you learn from every experience, and you have to move on. Kilkenny are always thinking about winning, conquering, and with a bit of luck we will be there or thereabout again this season.”
Brian Hogan joined the Kilkenny panel in 2004. He has won four senior All-Irelands, three National Leagues and six Leinster championships. He is the third O’Loughlin’s man to captain the team, following in the footsteps of the Comerford brothers, Andy and Martin.