A healthy sibling rivalry is often acknowledged as an essential part of growing up and a contributory factor to a youngster's development in a variety of ways during childhood.

There is certainly no hiding the competitive edge that has encouraged Reading striker Noel Hunt to emulate his brother Stephen's successes from a young age, and it's that inspiration that continues to motivate the former Reading and current international team-mates to this day.

Just over three-and-a-half years ago, Royals' front man Noel realised a burning ambition when he signed for then boss Steve Coppell - he'd finally got to the stage in his career where he could play alongside his brother.

The 29-year-old explained: "We were at junior clubs in Waterford as youngsters but because of the age gap we never played in the same team. By the time I'd progressed through youth football and caught up to be able to play at the same age group as him he'd already moved to England.

"I didn't really start playing football until I was about 13 but for Stephen it was always his dream from a young age. He seemed to have a ball with him in every photo as a kid, he only ever had a Plan A and that was to become a footballer.

"He is a couple of years older than me and I remember when he left to go to Crystal Palace and when he did, it hit me that was what I wanted to do too and that I wanted to follow in his footsteps."

Whilst Stephen didn't quite make the grade with the Eagles - he had just three substitute appearances to his name when he left Selhurst Park - he did find success just down the road. He joined Brentford in July 2001 and over the next four seasons made his mark on the English game. After rejecting a new contract with the Bees in the summer of 2005, he made the move to Championship side Reading and in his first year the Royals ran away with the league and were promoted to the Premier League.

Meanwhile Noel had been progressing equally well, first in Ireland and then in Scotland. Having joined Shamrock Rovers, from whom he spent a brief spell on loan with his home town club Waterford United, the striker moved to Dunfermline Athletic in January 2003.

A three-year stint with the Pars yielded a young player of the year award to add to a similar title he'd claimed at Shamrock prior to his switch and eventually a transfer to Dundee United, ironically a team who his brother had a trial with whilst on the books at Palace.

It was whilst with Dunfermline that he claimed his first international honours - at under-21 level - with the Republic of Ireland, an important milestone, in more ways that one.

"Since being a kid I have looked up to Stephen," commented the Waterford-born forward. "I have always tried to do whatever he has done, but at an age younger than he had achieved it. He was 20 when he got his first under-21 cap but I was 19 so it was opportunities like that which have helped to spur me on to be successful.

"It's been a huge thing for me to compete in that way, not because there is any rivalry between us but because in my eyes, he is my hero. I've always wanted to be as good as him and whenever he has achieved anything I have always set myself the target to try and do it myself, ideally at a younger age if I can too."

A goal every three matches for the Terrors over a two-year period naturally attracted a few scouts to Tannadice Park but as soon as Reading's interest was clear, who at this point were back in the Championship after their second season in the top flight ended on goal difference, the outcome was inevitable.

"When the chance came to move to Reading I didn't need to think twice about it. We'd never ever played in the same team and he was as excited as I was.

"It was so surreal for me, I never thought I would ever get to the same standard that he had got to. It's what I wanted and what I was working towards but I didn't think I'd get there, not to be at the same level as him at the same time - let'll own at the same club.

"I remember reporting for pre-season and signing in time to go and join them in Sweden on tour. It was just the best feeling in the world being on the plane heading out to join him and when we came to play together for the first time competitively against Dagenham and Redbridge, it was great. We both started and I scored the winner in the last minute.

"It was so weird for me seeing him every day, it took him about two or three months to sink in and become normal.

"In the next round of the cup we got Luton, and that was my first start at home, I scored our first after he crossed the ball and then a few minutes later I crossed for him to score. We ended up winning 5-1 and I set up four of the goals after scoring the first."

With notable firsts a theme of the brother's relationship, you won't be surprised to learn the competition didn't end when they were re-united at the Madejski stadium - instead they continued, with a friendly goalscoring competition between the pair however, it came with some small print laid down by the older brother.

"He did handicap me; he is a winger so he had penalties which was fair enough but he made up a rule that if he crossed it, and I scored from it, it didn't count towards the total.

"That happened quite a lot that season as well but to be honest, it meant it didn't stop him passing to me. He was as good as gold and he used to give me a lot of assists."

12 months after they'd become club-mates for the first time Stephen's four-year spell with the Royals came to an end with a move back to the top flight with Hull City initially and then Wolverhampton Wanderers.

"We've both been very lucky. It would be a massive thing for me to play in the Premier League, not just a game or two so I can say I have done it but to play at one whole season - at the very least.

"We've had a taste of it [the standard of teams] with cup matches in the last couple of years and I really want to do it with Reading. We have come close with the Play-Offs, I missed out in my first season with a burst appendix and then we reached the final last season but I want to get go one better this year.

"And if Wolves can get themselves out of that little bit of a rut they are in at the moment and stay up, then that'd be great for Stephen.

"It'd be so nice to play against him. That'd be a big thing for us, it would be nice chapter to add to the book - the first time we play against each other is in the Premier League. Hopefully one day it'll happen - that's my dream and my next target."

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