He may have been the go-to player for most of Clara’s frees, but the most important decision Keith Hogan made related to the one he didn’t hit!
Hogan, who grabbed 10 points as he helped his club capture their first senior hurling county title since 1986, gave colleague Lester Ryan the free-taking duties when Clara were awarded a 55th minute free close to the posts.
“The two of us were practising penalties all year,” said Hogan. “We both felt we were good at them, but before the game we made the call that if we were going to go for goal that Lester would take it - he had the Anthony Nash style!
“The game was in the melting pot but once we got the orders from the line to go for goal I stepped aside and Lester was the man to hit it,” he added. “As he showed he had a great nerve and he buried it.”
It was a big call from Clara, especially as they were two points behind and still had time on their side.
“As we said all week it’s better to have regret after the game having taken the chance,” he said. “If you go for the jugular on county final day you can’t have regrets. We said ‘to hell with it. We were behind so let’s go for it’.”
Clara’s remarkably cool-headed approach lasted for the entire 60 minutes, even after Carrickshock’s Brian Donovan rattled off 1-1 to demolish their four-point lead on the brink of half-time.
“Before the game we said we were facing into two 30-minute finals,” he said. “When we came in at half-time we weren’t panicking; we were perfectly happy with the situation.
“The game was level; we were in the same place as we had been 30 minutes before,” he added. “We knew the wind wasn’t going to be a factor so we had to go out again and go for it.
“We were probably disappointed with the goals at the time when they were conceded but there was no need to panic at half-time,” Hogan said. “The game was still all square - anyone could have won it.”
Sunday’s county final victory completed a fabulous year for Clara, but the players have known hurt as well.
“Just over a year ago we were in tears out in Freshford when we lost the relegation final to Tullaroan,” Hogan recalled. “We didn’t know where to go but Robert Shortall (former Clara manager) and the other selectors picked us up.
More to offer
“We felt we had more to offer the senior grade,” he said. “When we came back up we weren’t looking to hold our own. We knew we could take our game to the senior championship and put ourselves on the map.
“It was our ambition from day one to get to the county final, but now it’s happened I can’t believe it.
It’s one thing making a goal, but as far as Hogan was concerned the key to keeping it on track came down to one simple thing.
“Winning,” he said. “As Brian Cody always says you can’t beat winning. The fact we won Sunday’s county final we’d gladly go training the next day at 10am if the manager called it. We’ve kept coming back and thankfully more honours came with it - when you’re winning you just love the hurling.”
Winning those games helped the team learn how to hang on in tough periods, something which was needed in Sunday’s closely-fought final.
“We learned a lot coming back up from intermediate, playing in Leinster and coming through the All-Ireland club championship,” Hogan said. “The semi-final against Silvermines was in the melting pot for so long but we showed character to pull through. This year we overcame the Shamrocks in Thomastown in the league, having lost to Erin’s Own in the round before that.
“That was the game that really turned our year around,” he said. “Mick Purcell (manager) and the lads they instilled the belief in us that we could beat the Shamrocks. Little things like that made us believe more and more and turned our year around.”
And the year could get even better for Clara, who are keen to go all the way in the Leinster club championship.
“Having been there last year we appreciate what the competition is and what it is to win it,” he said. “The fact it’s come around again so soon we realise how good the Leinster championship is and what an opportunity it is for the club.
“We’ll celebrate this win, but we’ll be back in training quickly,” Hogan added. “The journey is still going.”