Horgan can't wait to pull on the Cork jersey again: 'I feel fresher than when I was 22'

Rebel hurling captain is excited by the young talent in the county and the addition of Donal O'Grady to the management
Horgan can't wait to pull on the Cork jersey again: 'I feel fresher than when I was 22'

Cork hurling captain Patrick Horgan at the announcement of Sports Direct’s new five-year sponsorship deal with Cork GAA. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

AS an American sports fan, Patrick Horgan knows that age is but a number.

He has been watching elite players with the right combination of discipline and talent defy the odds and stay on top during the latest lockdown. Tom Brady drove Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl appearance this season at 43 while 36-year-old LeBron James is still the most consistent performer in the NBA for the Lakers. 

The expectation on Leeside is Horgan will continue to excel in Rebel red whenever the campaign starts, even if it's in a new jersey for 2021 with Sports Direct emblazoned across the front. Though 33 in May, Horgan's best performances have come in the latter half of his inter-county career, three All-Stars in a row from 2017 to 2019 and overlooked for a nomination last winter.

"I nearly forget my age sometimes, 33 this year," he said in an online Zoom press conference to mark the Sports Direct deal. "I'm fitter and I feel fresher than when I was 22. 

"It's a strange place to be. I feel in better condition now to play on than I ever did. I think I could have another couple of chances at it but at the same time, it's all about the now and 2021. It'll be very disappointing if we don't shake it up this year."

Patrick Horgan in action last October. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Patrick Horgan in action last October. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

In that regard, last season was certainly a misfire, one win from three and out before the quarter-finals.

"Every year a Cork team doesn't get to the final is a big disappointment.

"We do have the talent here. It's just getting it right on the field. We have shown flashes, which is probably a bad thing as it's being more consistent is what we need.

"Take out last year and the three previous years we were very competitive. 

Probably should have beaten Limerick handy enough in the All-Ireland semi-final. That's one we probably threw away. 

"We were a bit disappointed against Waterford too when we had a few sent off when we were in the driving seat.

"We know we're not too far off. We have to get it all clicking at the same time and then hopefully we can be competitive."

IN IT TO WIN IT

The Cork faithful have waited since 2005 for an All-Ireland, an absolute famine in hurling terms. 

"As players, that's something we never look into. We can't.

"It's weird because when you're in the zone of training and playing every day you're only living for now and you're next session and how you can develop more. Thinking about stats like that and how long it's been since Cork won an All-Ireland and all the rest of it, that won't make you win. That's far away from any player's mind.

"The best thing we can do is go about being better today, tomorrow and the next day and leave the stats to others."

While some might argue Cork will be in transition over the coming months, the Glen Rovers club man doesn't agree.

"If I didn't think we could win it this year I wouldn't be playing. If I didn't think we could win it last year I wouldn't have been playing. Ye might have heard me saying this a few times before but the players we've in our dressing room are some of the best in the country. I honestly believe that as a panel we're really strong, as strong as is out there. 

"It's just a case of getting it together, one or two things we need to work on. We're a match for anyone. If we can get our house in order a bit more we can be very competitive or go all the way. I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe that."

Still, the Cork dressing room will be much changed from here. Some of Horgan's closest friends in the squad will be gone: Anthony Nash, Stephen McDonnell, Conor Lehane, Aidan Walsh and Chris Joyce.

 Patrick Horgan, Glen Rovers, closes in as Christopher Joyce, Na Piarsaigh, catches the sliotar in a club game. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Patrick Horgan, Glen Rovers, closes in as Christopher Joyce, Na Piarsaigh, catches the sliotar in a club game. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

"Anytime someone retires they're a massive loss. Look at the players that left, Aidan Walsh, Lehane, Joycie, Maccie, Nash... they've been unbelievable players for Cork for the last 10 years.

"You think that hole can't be filled when players are gone first but if you think back to when they started out they were the younger fellas coming in and they took their chance. Their door closed and it opens up for other young fellas. In 10 years' time, the same thing will happen again. You only hold the jersey for so long."

When they get the green light, the Cork U20s have an All-Ireland to complete against the Leinster champions, Dublin or Galway. Daire Connery and Shane Barrett have already got a championship run with the seniors, while Ciarán Joyce, Conor O'Callaghan, Dáire O'Leary and more look capable of making the step up.

From what we've seen at the end of last year it looks like they're well past their years, as in they're developed physically and their skill is off the charts. 

"They won't be found wanting there, it's just a case of a little bit of experience at this level.

"There are some unbelievable athletes, so it's exciting to get back training with them."

HURLING BRAIN

Helping them move from underage promise to the highest level will be Donal O'Grady, the All-Ireland winning manager added to the backroom by Kieran Kingston.

"I wouldn't know Donal directly but I'd have seen how he approached the game on the sideline in 2003 and 2004. You could see the way he'd his team set up and his players in synch and on the same page that he'd be a perfectionist. He's been there and done it and knows the story is. 

"His hurling brain is something else. We've had a couple of Zoom chats with him and anything you want, whether you're a forward or a back, he can put it into real-time. He understands from the players' side the feel and the movement of the game so we're looking forward to meeting up with him soon."

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