Patrick Horgan's epic quest to get the All-Ireland medal his talent deserves

Patrick Horgan's epic quest to get the All-Ireland medal his talent deserves
Patrick Horgan holds off Limerick's William O'Donoghue. While the brilliant forward has won it all with Glen Rovers, All-Ireland glory for Cork has proved more elusive. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

WHEN Patrick Horgan collected his fourth All-Star last November, he became the first outfield player since Brendan Bugler in 2012 to pick up the award from outside that year’s semi-finalists.

In recent years, All-Star honours have been reserved for those who have hurled long into August and September so to earn recognition despite mid-July elimination was testament to Horgan’s brilliance last summer. Only John Fenton, Tony O’Sullivan and Jimmy Barry-Murphy have now accrued more All-Stars on Leeside but it’s the accumulation of All-Ireland titles that differentiates Horgan from the rest of that exclusive group.

2012 All-Stars: Anthony Nash, Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan.
2012 All-Stars: Anthony Nash, Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan.

If Celtic Crosses are the only accepted legal tender for entry to the pantheon inhabited by Fenton, Barry-Murphy et al, where does that leave a man who for over a decade, has bestowed such greatness on the hurling world? In an era of unprecedented scoring, Patrick Horgan has emerged as one of the most accomplished practitioners of the craft.

However, while contemporaries such as Reid, Callanan and Canning have all reached the Promised Land, Horgan and Cork continue to wander the desert.

For less than two minutes in 2013 however, the Land of Milk and Honey was in sight. Having collected a side-line from Christophe Joyce with time almost elapsed, Horgan flicked the ball over the bar with a nonchalance that defied the gravity of the situation. It was Hoggy encapsulated, a mesmeric score created from nothing and executed with sheer finesse. 

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

A point worthy of winning any All-Ireland final but one that will be forever overshadowed in the annals of history by Domhnaill O’Donovan’s subsequent effort.

The madness of those two minutes, 100 second, no doubt still haunts Horgan, as it does the rest of Cork’s hurling fraternity. An inability to transfer Munster success onto a national scale has been a stick to beat Horgan’s Cork teams since underage. 

He featured prominently on the ’05 and ’06 Munster winning minor sides which completed the three-in-a-row of provincial triumphs at that grade. On each occasion however, they were felled by Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

While it’s difficult to fathom now, Horgan’s underage teammate and namesake Cronin was arguably the more highly regarded, given his physicality and ball-winning capabilities. The Kilkenny behemoth of the time were changing the landscape of inter-county hurling, the general consensus being that their directness and physicality would always supersede the more aesthetic elements of the game and that the days of the elegant corner-forward were consigned to the past.

The jury was out on whether Horgan could survive in this new age.

His inter-county debut came in June 2008 in the opening round of the Munster Championship, as a late replacement for Niall McCarthy, when defeat to Tipperary was all but assured. At the other end of the field, Seamus Callanan made a more conspicuous start to his career, notching three points from play in his first championship start.

Horgan scored his first senior championship point a month later in an unconvincing qualifier victory over Dublin, before being introduced to the fray at half-time in the subsequent qualifier against a Galway side already heavily reliant on another precocious talent. Joe Canning had run amok in that first half, confirming his greatness a mere three games into his maiden season. Ultimately, Cork won by two, Horgan playing his part in a memorable comeback.

Joe Canning ended the season as Young Hurler of the Year. Horgan’s induction wasn’t as seamless.

The game was changing, the ferocious intensity of the ‘09 All-Ireland final demonstrating that forwards no longer had license to rely solely on their scoring returns. With free-taking duties still entrusted in Ben O’Connor, accusations arose that Horgan’s in-play contributions were insufficient.

He was replaced at half-time in the helter-skelter Munster final replay against Waterford, a game where the delicacy of his skillset was rendered obsolete by the torrential weather conditions. Not for the last time, the term ‘flakiness’ became affiliated disparagingly with Horgan. Demoted to the bench for the All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Antrim, he regained his place for the semi-final against Kilkenny.

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

As the game headed towards its inevitable conclusion, Horgan scored four points from play off Jackie Tyrell, the first glimpse perhaps that his graft and guile would not be held subordinate to the physicality of the modern game.

Cork, at the time, were enduring a period of steady decline, exacerbated by the gradual decommissioning of that great mid-noughties side and the apparent paucity of talent coming through in its stead. Amidst the turbulence, Horgan soon became one of Cork’s more experienced players, while establishing himself as one of the country’s stand-out assailants, amassing 3-38 and 1-42 respectively, over the course of two seasons.

By the time Cork took to the field to play Clare in the opening round of the 2013 Munster Championship, only Anthony Nash, Brian Murphy and Tom Kenny had made their debuts before Horgan. Of the rest, only Stephen Moylan, William Egan and Luke O’Farrell had experienced any degree of underage success.

For most, the 2013 championship is remembered fondly as one of the most magical in the GAA’s history, awash with drama and unpredictability. For Horgan and the rest of Cork however, those memories are tinged with anguish, regret and a sense of ‘what could have been’.

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Horgan’s red-card in the Munster final evaporated any hope of provincial silverware while his aforementioned wonder-point lost much of its lustre moments later. A first All-Star award provided an opioid to the pain while the patrons on Leeside could at least take solace in the pervading hope that Cork had re-emerged as powerhouses of the game. It proved to be yet another false dawn.

If the progress of 2013 suggested that a sleeping giant was finally awakening from a lengthy slumber, the years that followed would rewrite the narrative. Although Horgan and co would atone for the year previous in 2014, defeating Limerick in the Munster decider, a wretched All-Ireland semi-final performance against Tipperary debunked the ‘Mushroom Theory’ that had permeated back into Cork hurling lexicon.

Cork were by now in the throes of an underage development crisis, the drought on a national scale dating back to 2001. At senior level, the knock-on effect was evident, the regression in the performance of established players, including Horgan, undoubtedly owing to the dearth of competition.

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Old accusations regarding the efficacy of his overall game began to gain traction once more. In the February of 2017, Cork manager Kieran Kingston dropped Horgan, opting for stick over carrot to coax more out of his talisman. For the first time in almost six years, Cork lined out in a competitive game without Horgan. 

Horgan won senior counties for the Glen in 2015 and '16. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Horgan won senior counties for the Glen in 2015 and '16. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Whether subconsciously or not, it lit a fire under Horgan, extracting from him a level of performance that has seen him occupy a different stratosphere to most of his peers.

Scoring four points from play in the unexpected championship defeat of Tipperary, Horgan continued his stellar form throughout the summer. 2018 followed a similar trajectory and any allegations of an over-reliance on placed balls were soon suppressed. Provincial honours and an All-Star however, did little to quell the frustration of another All-Ireland semi-final defeat, the sixth of Horgan’s career.

Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

These frustrations are unlikely to be abated unless Horgan can finally land that elusive Celtic Cross. If inter-county hurling is gradually becoming No Country for Old Men, Horgan refuses to be pigeon-holed as the protagonist struggling to adapt to the changing world. Last season was unquestionably his best, a new-found proclivity for goal-scoring demonstrating that some old dogs can acquire new tricks.

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Having only scored nine goals in 11 seasons prior to 2019, Horgan added seven more to his tally last summer. His virtuoso performance against Kilkenny was a microcosmic representation of his oxymoronic inter-county career to date, individual magnificence protruding from a backdrop of disappointment.

Around the time that Horgan was collecting his third All-Star award back in 2018, esteemed filmmaker Sam Blair was releasing Make Us Dream, a revelatory documentary centred around Steven Gerrard. The theme of the film focuses on how Gerrard became one of the greatest players in the history of Liverpool FC at a time when trophies were on the wane and the player’s personal mission to restore the club to the apex of the game.

It is impossible not to draw correlations between Horgan and Gerrard, both victims of timing, both burdened with the hopes and expectations of traditional sporting bastions through periods of crippling underachievement.

Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Last November, Patrick Horgan joined a select cohort of tragic heroes which epitomises the cruel realities of team sport, an arena where individual excellence is not a guarantor of ultimate glory.

Limerick’s Gary Kirby ended his career with four All-Stars, as did Ollie Canning of Galway.

Waterford’s Michael Walsh also has four, while John Mullane holds the bittersweet record of most All-Stars without an All-Ireland with five. These names are all synonymous with the tales of anguish that have become part of hurling’s tapestry in recent decades.

Canning and Kirby were yesterday’s men by the time Galway and Limerick ended their respective ‘famines’. The cavalier Waterford team of the Noughties featuring Mullane and Walsh will unfortunately always be remembered for their Croke Park failings.

Will Horgan be remembered in a similar vein? The great man turns 32 this week but there is every chance that he could be 33 before inter-county hurling is restored to our sporting calendars. The worry on Leeside is that time is running out.

Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

More in this section

Sponsored Content