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Cork's Patrick Horgan celebrates scoring his side's goal in Limerick last May. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Cork's Patrick Horgan celebrates scoring his side's goal in Limerick last May. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
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Hoggie, Callanan, Canning and TJ... Four kings in a golden age of hurling forwards

Patrick Horgan, Seamus Callanan, Joe Canning and TJ Reid have ripped up the scoring charts in an outstanding era for marksmen writes Eoin Keane...

GEORGE Kimball's Four Kings tells the story of boxings last Golden Age and how four middleweight boxing giants, namely Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran came to dominate the sport throughout the 1980s.

Hurling’s Golden Age, or certainly the golden age for scoring, is manifesting itself before our eyes, the protagonists of which continue to reach unparalleled levels of proficiency.

As the 2008 All-Ireland Hurling Championship crept into July, the summer had been up to that point, rather devoid of incident and excitement.

In Munster, Tipperary had beaten Cork on their own patch for the first time since 1923. Over in Leinster, Kilkenny had commenced their pursuit of the three-in-a-row by subjecting Offaly to a 13-point shellacking.

Galway would double that margin a week later against Antrim, as they began their annual voyage through the qualifiers. An unremarkable start to what would prove to be a fairly nondescript championship.

What we didn’t know then, however, was that in the space of twenty days, we had borne witness to a prodigious quartet taking their fledgling steps on the inter-county scene.

While their precocity of Messrs Horgan, Callanan, Reid and Canning had been well known at that stage, even the most prescient of hurling experts wouldn’t have envisaged the extent to which they would illuminate the game for years to come.

Kings:

Thirteen years on and the four have emerged from the pack as kings, stand-out assailants in an era of unprecedented marksmanship.

Since ‘08, the foursome has accumulated 105-1382 between them, that’s a few 65s shy of 1700 total championship points. Annexing the All-time scoring charts,

Canning, Horgan, Reid and Callanan currently sit second, third, sixth and seventh respectively.

Between them, they have played 229 championship games, accounting for 29% of their team’s scores, an extraordinary return that is testament to both the longevity and consistency of their careers to date.

Their performances over the past twelve seasons have put them on a pedestal above even their most gifted of contemporaries and their scoring yields show no signs of decreasing either as they enter the autumnal period of their careers.

Just three games into his maiden season, Canning ran amok against Cork, plundering 2-12 in the process. Nonetheless, Cork won by two and ever since, the ‘over-reliance on Joe Canning’ trope has been a stick with which to beat the Tribesmen whenever they have come up short.

Since his debut against Antrim in 2008, Canning has played 57 times for Galway, missing only four (three of which came last year). The fact that Canning has been responsible or 34% of Galway’s scores in those games suggests there is a modicum of truth behind the argument.

The same could be said for Horgan, whose scoring has increased almost linearly since taking over the free-taking duties from Ben O’Connor in 2011. Since then, his points per game average hasn’t dropped below eight (coming in 2016 when Cork were defeated by Wexford in the Qualifiers).

A common perception surrounding Horgan has been that his contribution from play hasn’t matched his free-taking excellence. In fact, Horgan’s points per game ratio from play hasn’t dropped below two since 2009 and he has accrued more points from play than Reid or Canning over the past 12 seasons.

Talents:

While Cork and Galway were already relying heavily on their precocious young talents to carry the scoring burden, the depth of attacking talents available to Kilkenny and Tipperary meant that both Reid and Callanan would have to bide their time before becoming their county’s primary marksmen.

Prior to the start of the 2014 championship, Reid (40 points) and Callanan (65 points) had barely registered 100 championship points between them. 

That year, however, they both would assume dead ball responsibilities, Reid taking over from Eoin Larkin and Callanan from Eoin Kelly. The pair would end the year with All Stars as well as Player of the Year nominations. Callanan would supplement his free-scoring tally with a remarkable 9-16 from play, the first indication of his penchant for goals.

Callanan’s numbers are even more laudable when you consider that he has only spent four seasons as the primary free-taker (2014 – 2017). 68% of Callanan’s scoring tally has come from play, by far the highest proportion of the four.

If you were to look solely at his points total from play, Callanan would still infiltrate the top 20 all-time scorers list, a couple of places above Dublin’s Paul Ryan who incidentally also started out in 2008.

Between them, the four have amassed seventeen All-Star Awards, while Reid (2015), Canning (2017) and Callanan (2019) have been recognised as Hurler of the Year. It is not inconceivable that Shefflin’s all-time scoring record will be surpassed by at least two of the Class of ’08 over the next three years.

Either way, the exploits of Horgan, Callanan, Reid and Canning have imbued the game with moments of magic that can’t be captured in record tables, feats of individual brilliance which have transcended parochial rivalries and enthused the hurling community as a whole.

And they’re not finished yet. Cherish it. As Kimball alluded to, we may never see their likes again.