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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.