Tullamore's Declan Hogan knocks the ball away from Edenderry's Colm Byrne as Alan Harte (left) awaits developments during the recent Offaly SFC semi-final. Photo: Ger Rogers

Hogan happy to embrace Tullamore's great expectations

By Kevin Egan

With just a year between them, Tullamore joint captains Michael Brazil and Declan Hogan have soldiered together for the best part of two decades now.

Brazil was a key figure for the Offaly minors in 2009, Hogan played at centre back on the team that lost a Leinster final to Longford the following year, and now as they prepare to meet Ferbane in Sunday’s county senior football final, they do so having both won two Dowling Cups, and with both having played exactly 57 times for Offaly in league and championship.

Yet while Brazil last kicked a football for the county in what turned out to be Offaly’s last league game before Covid, an 0-17 to 0-9 defeat to Down in Tullamore, Hogan produced arguably the best season of his career this year, as he captained the county and produced some stirring performances, particularly those memorable Leinster championship ties against Meath and Louth.

The defender has been that most rare of things in the modern intercounty game – a late bloomer.

His inter-county senior debut was eight years ago, but injury curtailed his development, and it was only at the age when many other inter-county players would say that they were at their peak, that he started to gather momentum.

“In 2015 I went in under Pat Flanagan and I played a good few league games but I didn’t see a whole lot of championship action for one reason or another. But in terms of development it was absolutely huge.

“I got to learn from the likes of the two Darbys. Lads from my own club were in there like Johnny Maloney and Paul McConway, then you had lads like Niall Smyth and Alan Mulhall, really good leaders in the dressing room,” he recalls.

“I missed a lot of 2016, I had a hip injury that needed surgery so that definitely knocked me back a bit. 2017 I was trying to work my way back into things. The team was quite settled to be honest and I was probably thinking twice about things because I was missing a couple of league games with Tullamore, they were playing away. I debated if I would stick at it, but I did. I had one or two conversations with Johnny Moloney at the time. He encouraged me to stay with it and I’m so glad I did now.”

Similarly, while many modern players use the Sigerson Cup as a developing ground and a chance to draw from different sporting influences, Hogan found that it was when he got back home that his career took off.

“When I started off playing with Offaly I was in college in Galway, and I probably struggled to balance the college life and the inter-county life. I moved home around 2018 and everything changed. It was easier to get to training, I had more time because there was no commute, I had just started my teacher training course in Hibernia College and I could do that from home. That was a massive change because I could get up to training that bit earlier. I could get the gym work that I needed to get done in time.”

That upward trajectory takes us to this week, when Hogan will be seen as the number one firefighter in the Tullamore defence, the man deployed wherever his club needs him most, depending on how things play out on Sunday afternoon.

However while he’s still very fresh and strong in his physical play, he also has the experience and the understanding to know that in a club like Tullamore, one county title in a decade is not going to be seen as success.

“Being from Tullamore the expectation is that you always get to a county final anyway. I like that about the club, because the standards are there straight away. As a young footballer it’s all about getting to a county final, learning the skills of the game as best you can and being the best version of yourself.

“I think of the likes of Ken Furlong, he was in the dressing room when I was only starting off, Cathal Daly was involved with us. Gary Heffernan, James Keane, Paul McConway, they’re all really good leaders. They set the tone and I suppose they were excellent in teaching the young lads what it means to play with Tullamore, what is expected of you.

“It’s only now that things change, and instead of the two week cycle of focusing on the next opponent, getting your preparation done, play the game and recover, it’s a unique sort of game where we can enjoy the build up, but still keep the head down and hopefully perform as well as we can.”

For Declan Hogan in 2023, playing as well as he can means continuing to raise the bar and get better with every game. This late bloomer is only coming into season.