Across the Laighin: Trevor Hogan and the COE
March 10, 2022 4:06 pm client
‘Across The Laighin’ is the magazine published exclusively for Season Ticket holders.
The fourth edition went live at the end of 2021 and over the coming days we will be giving Leinster Rugby supporters access to excerpts from some of the interviews and feature pieces.
Following a playing career with Munster, Leinster and Ireland, Tipperary native Trevor Hogan is now working with the province as an Elite Player Development Officer, heading up the Ken Wall Centre of Excellence at Energia Park where the Leinster Rugby sub-Academy programme is based. He chats about his time in rugby and the function of the Centre of Excellence within the Leinster Rugby pathway system.
Centre of Excellence
In September of 2019, Leinster Rugby formally opened the Ken Wall Centre of Excellence at Energia Park in Donnybrook.
The Centre, the first of five planned for each of the province’s five Areas – Metro, Midlands, North Midlands, South-East and North-East – cost €1.5 million to build and was funded by the Department of Sport’s Capital Funds programme, the IRFU and private investment including from the family of Ken Wall, a lifelong St Mary’s College, Leinster and Ireland rugby supporter who passed away in 2008.
Speaking on that day, Leinster Rugby CEO, Michael Dawson, said: “This Centre is the first step in an ambitious programme of ours to have a centre in each of our five rugby playing areas.
“The Metro Area is now brilliantly catered for with a state of the art, modern facility in Energia Park and the plan now is to start work on the other four.
“It is an exciting time for the future of Leinster Rugby and hopefully the future of the game across the 12 counties.”
Since then, the COE has continued to help in the progression of players from around the province of Leinster, as well as catering to the needs of the various Metro teams that compete in the Bank of Ireland Shane Horgan and Sarah Robinson Cups.
Currently leading the way at Energia Park is Trevor Hogan, a Tipperary native, who, during his own days in the professional game, would represent Munster and Leinster as well as claiming four Ireland caps.
Who better to oversee such an integral part of the Leinster Rugby pathway than someone who has been there and experienced it himself, albeit a bit further to the south.
Being ready. That’s where the Ken Wall Centre of Excellence comes in. While the cream of the crop in Leinster will typically end up at Energia Park to work at close quarters with the EPDOs, it’s as a result of the work being put in by their clubs and schools to get them to that level.
Area players get selected for the YSP (Youth Select Players) where the next step would be selection for the NTS (National Talent Squad) followed by NTS1 where the players that could be considered future Academy or senior players are monitored for progress and given the opportunity to show that they will be able to reach that level.
The Centre of Excellence, and the state-of-the-art facilities inside it, makes that process easier, catering for players better than the province ever has before.
“It’s a huge part of the pathway. I know there is pressure on contracting players a little bit earlier but the beauty of here is that it gives players a window to develop, and allow their careers to be even longer, by getting that little bit more of one-on-one support where they don’t have to go straight away into an intense environment in UCD that’s pretty full-on,” he highlights.
“And, it allows them to get into college, get up and running, and transition from school into the adult world which is a huge thing for players to have to do. I think it’s a big part in that bridge from school into hopefully that senior, highly-strung, professional world.
“We’re preparing players for a longer, more successful career, to be more robust, to be better people all-round in this year or two-year window. It’s also part of that whole Irish U-20 time in their lives which is a big part in the pathway too and a great opportunity to put on the green jersey in a Six Nations and a World Cup all going well again this year.
“I just see it as that bridge, it’s continuing on a way to allow the players to step into a longer career. And then be better players and better people through that. It can all happen very fast but it’s maybe giving players a little more experience to help in the longer run.”
As well as Hogan and his fellow EPDOs, there is a strong support staff in the Centre of Excellence who work with the senior staff in Leinster Rugby HQ in UCD to ensure that the best practice is used across the board.
From physiotherapy to nutrition to strength and conditioning, the markers and advice is all tailored to improve the habits and tendencies of the players both for their health and for improved performance.
“You couldn’t mention the COE without Dave Fagan, Dave would have been a huge part of the old sub-Academy. He was experienced with the seniors at the time and the Academy but it would have been the sub-Academy when Dave was here going way back to the early-2000s, some amount of players would have gone through that under his watch. It’s hard to envision the place without him.
“On top of him, you have Mark Kenneally, who is the head physio here, he’s a huge part in helping us build that robustness into players so when they go into that senior environment, they’re ready to go and be able to have long careers. Mark has a huge role in that. Alongside Mark then is Lorcan Kavanagh (Academy and Age Grade Physiotherapist), Padraic Phibbs and Luke O’Dea, they work closely with Dave around the S&C programmes that the guys get. This might be their one window to really get a block of physical development that will allow them to prepare for long-term rugby.
“They have a huge job in that, as does Sophie Conroy, our nutritionist, who is just doing brilliant work in helping these growing adults to manage their diet and life around food. It’s such an important part of being a professional player. Eoin Smyth then is our Academy video analyst who plays a key role, making sure we have footage of players in a variety of competitions, and he’s also a key link to clubs for when players are back playing there.
“And then we have rugby staff which includes myself and the other EPDOs (Elite Player Development Officers), Kieran Hallett, Aaron Dundon, and now Adam Griggs who is in my previous role, all overseen by Simon Broughton who has a huge in-depth knowledge of what this process is. So, Simon would be here regularly to make sure we’re on track and we’re all aligned with what’s needed for an Academy player of the future and a senior player of the future.
“We do work closely as well with the Metro Area, Kieran Hurrell and Damien McCabe, well all of the CPDOs (Coach Player Development Officers), but Kieran and Damien would be a big part of the Centre of Excellence. It’s important to mention that we are very tight with the CPDOs and that age-grade club aspect of the Metro as we’re at the heart of that region in Donnybrook.”
Once in the door, that specialist support staff is there to provide players with the best possible conditions to succeed.
But, as Hogan also outlines, sometimes the most important characteristic that he, and the others in the team, can have, is patience.
At the core of it all is that you are dealing with young adults who are going through a transition from school to college, from teenage years to adulthood, and from underage sport to the adult game.
While those are all landmark moments in anyone’s life, they can also be difficult times and prove to be obstacles in both sport and academics if one of those aspects does not go to plan for an individual.
“There would be (markers). We would be flexible in some of those things though. Say, for example, a player isn’t of a certain physical profile right now, we have to be able to allow for that ceiling to be wide or quite high.
“They need to have time and we’ll be patient to allow them to get there. If they have certain characteristics, we have to be patient, to allow them to achieve those other things that they may be lacking. And you also allow for the different environments or different landscapes that players might be in.
“You can’t always have a black and white approach to players who are developing. The constant within it all is the communication with the club or school coaches, the guys who know them much deeper than we would at that early stage.
“You’re really trusting what they see and that’s the beauty of what we have here in Leinster. It’s such a great network of people, that trust each other and have a great track record of bringing players through.
“It’s hugely important to create an environment that the players enjoy. They come away and they get a positive experience of what it’s like to play rugby, what it’s like to be a part of Leinster.
“I suppose the enjoyment piece can mean a lot of things, that the players are being challenged but they’re also feeling valued and part of the squad. It’s like a little community, when they come in, they feel connected to what Leinster is about.
“It’s easier to say it but you’d hope that lads who go away from Leinster and back to their school or club, that they want to be a part of it again and they want to keep driving themselves.”
Hogan states that coaching is never a complete process. From his early days as an assistant coach with Nenagh Ormond after retiring from playing through to where he is now with Leinster, he has worked with and observed others at work with the aim of devising his own coaching style.
“Since I’ve come in here I’ve been lucky to see how the likes of Leo Cullen works, and John Fogarty, and more recently Robin McBryde. Also, I’ve been seeing how Felipe (Contepomi) has transitioned back in there, how Emmet Farrell works. It’s basically most of those Leinster lads. I see how Simon (Broughton) here works with players, communicating and getting the best out of players, obviously Noel McNamara and Peter Smyth prior to that.
“Without listing nearly everyone, even Denis Leamy, it’s been fascinating to see him grow and he brings his knowledge to the players. Coaching is such a shared world, everyone picks up something from every coach they see in action. It’s not quite plagiarism but just being a sponge to everything you see.
“We’re privileged in Leinster to have so many good people, Stuart Lancaster’s input, there’s so many people you could list. Every day I see a new coach, it’s going to have an impact on me. And that goes right through to our age-grade teams, Andy Skehan and how well he’s been doing with our U-18 Schools to Joe Carbery in the clubs and Andy Wood. All those coaches are shaping how you see the game and are shaping how you can keep getting better for the players you work with.
“I’d very much be a person who believes in players driving things. I think at the outset of my coaching, I would have been very much influenced by the coach-led, coach-driven environments which is definitely what Michael Cheika would have been like, and probably the likes of maybe Declan Kidney but less so, he would have stood back a little bit.
“The likes of Cheika was very much emotional, and would drive things but as I’ve grown, I’ve found it better for players to take ownership. Trying to facilitate how I see my role, it’s not about me as a coach, it’s about the player recognising where he can get better and how he can do that. It’s much more valuable when it comes from the player so my role is to facilitate that path for the player and making sure that I’m in the background rather than anything about me.
“Players need to have that awareness and that sense that it’s their journey and that lasts a lot longer than something that’s just been driven by the emotion or the motivation of one coach. It’s got to be coming from each player.”
Having completed his teaching qualifications in the mid-2010s, it’s just another notch on the belt of Hogan’s ability to work with this age group of players.
The offer to help out a friend coaching in Nenagh, Davy Delaney, as a way of giving back to the club where it all began for him ended up with a couple of other roles on the sideline such as Blackrock College RFC and St Gerard’s School. From there, the “timing was right” as the end of his teaching qualifications coincided with a new Provincial Talent coach being appointed in Leinster Rugby.
“I have a lot of respect for the club coaches and the coaches around the country in the AIL because they coach but they also have jobs or are coaching in schools as well. To be able to turn their heads towards coaching their teams two or three times a week and doing analysis post-match.
“I’m lucky enough I can do that all day, watch players, work one-on-one with them, do pitch sessions. I don’t have to worry about a day-to-day 9-5 on top of that. It’s great to be able to fully commit and be fully a part of the process of helping players get better and hopefully be able to pull on a blue jersey or a green jersey at some stage.”
With their recent track record of helping so many players to do exactly that, it’s fair to say that, under Academy manager Broughton, Hogan, and the many others working from the Ken Wall Centre of Excellence, the future of Leinster Rugby remains in safe hands.