The Hogan stance

 
 

Jack Walsh sits down with former Irish rugby international Trevor Hogan to talk rugby, studying, Gaza and everything in between

As a player, Trevor Hogan witnessed the dominance of Munster rugby on a national and international level, and was a member of Leinster’s first successful Heineken Cup Campaign in 2008-2009. He even made three appearances for the national team. At the age of 16, he was drawn in by “the physical nature” of the game and enjoyed the fact that he “didn’t have to pull back in any area and you could really let loose all the aggression that you had.”

“I had played soccer up until that point, and I was from a soccer obsessed family. I was growing tall so a couple of the lads said to me why don’t you go to the local club and give training a go… I remember the coach just propped the ball to us and said ‘just run at each other’ and, coming from a soccer background, it was just liberating.”

What kept him interested in the game was the “camaraderie that develops very quickly… I think, maybe more so than in other sports, you feel like you are committing to a player, you are putting trust in your teammates, they are responsible for your safety.”

Having secured a BA in Journalism from DCU, Hogan has seen both sides of the coin in terms of the nation’s obsession with rugby. He believes that the media has just as much of an effect on the Irish team as the Irish team has on the media.

“They are interdependent… There was so much hype surrounding the Six Nations, especially around Ireland. The hype is huge, particularly coming in from a provincial [team]; you would have to multiply it by five or six. So if you do something good with Ireland, it becomes completely magnified and after the Welsh game, perhaps the players began to believe. And they were brilliant that day, [but] they couldn’t keep up the consistency that was needed for the next day.”

But the media effect extends beyond building up a team too greatly, as Hogan notes: “when everything goes bad, it becomes an absolute crisis, which is what has happened. I do believe that players listen to the media.” Hogan believes that neither the public nor the players should spend too much time listening to certain analysts.

“You have the likes of George Hook, and the public are forced to depend on this for their insight, which really isn’t all that reliable. Alternatively, you could hear from pundits who are closer to the game and have an ear to the ground; the likes of Shane Horgan. So the relationship is very interdependent and it’s important that both sides don’t shut each other down, or else each in turn would suffer.”

Hogan reflects fondly on his time at Munster, where he felt there was a clear plan of what was expected of him, describing it as “an aggressive mind-set, all of the emphasis in Munster is on representing that community, and that was a huge emphasis there, and you felt like you couldn’t let anyone down… That has kind of always stood with me.”

His favourite moment from his time at the club was the week following the province’s first Heineken Cup victory. “We still had a league game to play in 2006 and it was a really hard game for a lot of the lads because we were on such a high the week before, and a lot of the lads who hadn’t got a chance to play the previous week were out.

“We played a great game against Cardiff and the crowd in Thomond Park, they all came on the pitch afterwards, and the Heineken Cup came out and the lads who were leaving were brought up into the stand and we were all made to sing a song in front of the whole crowd, well sing is probably the wrong word to use, I shouted out ‘Sliabh na mBan’, which is an old Tipperary song. Looking back, I was so proud to be able to do that.”

His reasons for leaving his home province for Leinster were justified; a studded second row meant few opportunities for the young man, and meeting Michael Cheika and seeing his “pure determination and obsession with bringing a winning culture to Leinster” would convince him to join the start of a Leinster revolution, that became a reign of dominance within the Heineken Cup; resulting in three Heineken Cup wins in the span of just four years.

“Initially, Leinster had the idea of playing a much more expansive game, Munster had a much greater focus in playing the physical nature of their pack and playing territory, and that has totally changed in the last few years.When I came to Leinster, they were really emphasising bringing that element, the pack, the foundations from the forwards and not to have a split between the backs and the forwards in the game play. So it was a real emphasis on building that foundation in the pack… You could see the style of game Leinster played had evolved from that and was much more rounded and the threats from Leinster now can come from all over the field.”

In 2011, Hogan was forced into an early retirement due to a persistent knee injury. He described the early days of retirement as “a huge vacuum in your life”, which he says he immediately tried to fill with study.

“I was lucky to get into UCD with two modules I was able to do, just to try and fill the hole in your life. I was using college to try and transition and to cushion the impact… I almost replaced rugby with books and instead of training I was just studying constantly, maybe going overboard too much.”

He knows better than anyone about perhaps the most important part of a player’s career; the ending. He says that he has found help in his retirement, as “an insurance scheme, for example, has allowed me to go back and study, but the IRFU insurance policy possibly doesn’t give enough for [retired players] to secure themselves outside of that.

“I mean, if you look at the last two years, the amount of high profile players having to retire, so it just really shows the impact of the physical nature of the game that it can take on a person.” He says, as he explains the improvements being made every day in terms of monitoring the players’ health on a day-to-day basis.

“There are great facilities, excellent medical staff, and the conditioning staff are really taking things to a huge new level. Players are monitored, their blood is taken… everything is checked. Yet even with all of this, all the many precautions that are in place, there will be players that will be forced into retirement.

“Even if they don’t retire to injury, when they do retire, it’s still a massive shock, and there is a great players union called IRUPA, who have great structures in place. Because it’s not like soccer; you have to go back to square one when you finish. You probably have a fair few lads who are fully qualified and have abilities to get into a job, and they have to start from scratch.”

Despite his success as a player and student, Hogan’s most endearing success was his participation in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, the MV Saoirse, in late 2011. He describes the experience as “a unity of purpose” and feels that he made bonds there that are stronger than any he ever made on the field.

“Coming from a rugby background, I’ve always tried to have a positive outlook on things and each day on the flotilla we kept incredibly positive approach; that we were going to get to Gaza and that the Israeli’s wouldn’t act illegally and come into international waters and take our ship.”

The flotilla was unsuccessful in reaching Gaza, yet Hogan continues to work with Gaza Action Ireland in building links between Ireland and Gaza. One of these is, unsurprisingly, a sporting link, as he says “we’re looking at possibly having a team… play in a mini tournament here in Ireland. It’s all underage kids, and they would never have the opportunity to leave Gaza, so that would be great to show solidarity, so this is a small effort and attempt to try and have some normality.”

From his early days back playing with Nenagh Ormond RFC, to his work in Gaza, Trevor Hogan has led a life unlike any other. Whatever steps he takes next, he’s sure that he will blaze his own trail. “One thing I learned from rugby was that if you can do something you love, then it makes life just so much easier.”

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