Happy Noel but brother Steve faces a downer
The Hunt boys look to be heading in opposite directions next season
Sunday 22 April 2012
It is not often that brothers reach the higher echelons of English football, and it is even less usual for one to gain promotion as the other is relegated. That looks set to happen to the Hunt brothers after Noel, 28, secured promotion with Reading last week.
Heading in the opposite direction is his elder brother Stephen, 30, as Wolves seem doomed ahead of today's visit by Manchester City to Molineux for a game he will miss with a groin strain.
Despite this, the Republic of Ireland international is delighted that he and Noel will be part of a select band of brothers to have played in the top flight, and even more so because Noel plays for his former club. Stephen was a member of the Reading squad who won promotion to the top flight for the first time in 2006. He then moved on, to Hull and Wolves.
Fittingly, on Tuesday the winger was having dinner with two former Royals, Shane Long and Nicky Shorey – both now at West Bromwich Albion – on what turned out to be Noel's big night, as Mikele Leigertwood's 81st-minute goal against Nottingham Forest clinched automatic promotion.
"It was ironic that I was out with Shane and Nicky as I had not seen them for a long time," Stephen said. "Obviously, it didn't look like Reading were going to go up on the night but then they got a late goal and the rest is now history. It was great to see our old club get promoted again. I stay in contact with a lot of people at Reading and I couldn't be happier for them. I'm obviously really chuffed for Noel too. He deserves it. I watched him play against Derby and he's struck up a really good partnership with Jason Roberts up front.
"It's great to have two brothers make it to the Premier League. Other than the Nevilles and Ferdinands, there haven't been many brothers that have both made it."
Noel Hunt's climb to the Premier League has taken longer and been more difficult than that of his brother. Stephen left Ireland to join Crystal Palace and moved on to Reading via Brentford. Noel played his early football at Shamrock Rovers in the League of Ireland. A five-year spell in Scotland followed, with Dunfermline and Dundee United, before Reading signed him in 2008, a year before his older brother moved on to secure top-flight football.
Even then, Noel's ascent to the big time was not assured. Dogged by a knee injury, the striker was told towards the end of his second season with the Royals that he might not play again. One operation later, his 10 goals last season helped Reading reach the play-off final, against Swansea at Wembley. They lost 4-2.
"I thought it was now or never last season and when it didn't happen I believed maybe my shot at playing in the Premier League had passed," Noel said. "There are not many teams that come back from losing a play-off final and then go up the next season. The other night was probably the best of my life and it still hasn't really sunk in. It was massive for Steve too and he was so pleased. I think it's the first time that two Irish brothers have made it to the Premier League and that is a great feeling. It is a nice thing to have on the CV.
"The pressure has certainly been lifted off our shoulders but winning the title is our focus now. It would be nice to collect a winners' medal."
Noel relishes the possibility of playing against his brother. That could depend on Stephen leaving Wolves.
"I've played with Steve at club and international level but never against him so it would be good to be able to do that next season," Noel said. "Obviously it doesn't look good for him and Wolves at the moment but hopefully they can turn it around in enough time."
Asked if Steve could end up back at Reading, Noel replied: "You never know. Anything can happen."
One thing is for sure: the Premier League has not seen the last of the Hunts.
Premier Band of Brothers
Rafael and Fabio Da Silva (both Manchester United)
Kolo and Yaya Touré (both Manchester City)
Craig Gardner (Sunderland) and Gary Gardner (Aston Villa)
Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United) and Anton Ferdinand (Queens Park Rangers)
Martin and Marcus Olsson (both Blackburn Rovers)
Shola and Sammy Ameobi (both Newcastle United)
John Arne and Bjorn Helge Riise (both Fulham)
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