Patrick Horgan: What next for hurling's greatest scorer?

Christy O'Connor breaks down the stats behind the Glen Rovers talisman's incredible championship record and looks at who could catch him at the top of the scoring charts
Patrick Horgan: What next for hurling's greatest scorer?

Patrick Horgan of Cork in action against Ronan Maher of Tipperary last month in Thurles. Picture: George Tewkesbury/Sportsfile

NOBODY noticed in the maelstrom. 

Cork were desperately scratching and scrambling trying to survive so Patrick Horgan’s 10th point against Clare just bled into an underwhelming performance from Cork, which camouflaged what Horgan’s final score really meant; he had just equalled Joe Canning’s all-time scoring championship record.

Horgan could have surpassed Canning on the day if he hadn’t missed a handful of frees he’d normally nail. When Horgan did break that record two weeks later against Waterford, his first point was another low-key image when framed within the wider context of what he had just achieved. Horgan just put his hurley up and got back into position to reset for the Waterford puck-out.

Patrick Horgan converts a free against Waterford. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Patrick Horgan converts a free against Waterford. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Individual records are never celebrated in GAA like they are in professional sports but records have just been tumbling beneath Horgan’s feet since he overtook Christy Ring to become Cork’s leading championship scorer in the 2017 Munster final, an afternoon when Horgan scored 0-13.

In last year’s All-Ireland final, Horgan equalled Ring’s appearance record of 65 championship games. Horgan also surpassed another couple of milestones in 2021; he became the leading point scorer from play in championship history. Horgan has now raised 151 white flags from play, which has pushed him 17 clear of Canning. Horgan also joined an exclusive club of hurlers last summer to have broken the 500 points barrier.

With Horgan now nine points ahead of Canning in the all-time scoring table, it appeared after the Clare game that Horgan’s ability to stretch that lead would be seriously curtailed when Cork were struggling in the championship.

Cork looked set to play just two more championship matches but that terrain has completely changed now as Cork head to a preliminary quarter-final, and with the possibility of four more games stretching out ahead of them.

That would give Horgan enough scope to make that lead almost unassailable – for a significant period anyway – but the ground rules have radically changed for him. After being taken off in his last two games with nearly half an hour remaining on both days, Horgan’s involvement in the remainder of this championship may be far more limited than he would wish it to be.

Horgan only had four possessions in his last two games. His scoring return from play was just one point.

Prior to this season, there were only three games where Horgan was replaced after having failed to score; the 2009 Munster quarter-final against Tipperary; the 2010 drawn Munster final against Waterford; the 2010 replayed Munster final.

Horgan was taken off in the 35th minute of that replay and was subsequently dropped for the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final against Antrim. He came on in that game after 50 minutes but again failed to score. Yet Horgan started the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny and was Cork’s leading light on another dark day during that period, scoring six points from play.

Horgan wasn’t the main free-taker back then but, in many ways, Horgan is in a similar, yet vastly different position now having been hauled off in successive games with a poor scoring return from play by his standards. But 12 years on, it will be much harder for Horgan to rediscover that scoring magic like he did in 2010 when he was still in the early stages of his Cork career.

Cork manager Kieran Kingston watches Patrick Horgan in the warm-up. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Cork manager Kieran Kingston watches Patrick Horgan in the warm-up. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Since making his debut in 2008, Horgan’s overall numbers are staggering; in 153 appearances between league and championship, Horgan has scored a combined total of 47-1,107.

The change in modern equipment, especially sliotars, along with new championship formats and more games, has helped the modern forwards accumulate more scores than their predecessors. Yet everything is accelerated in modern sport. The hurling championship record was held by Eddie Keher for nearly 40 years before Henry Shefflin grabbed hold of it in 2010, but it has now changed hands twice in the space of less than 10 months.

Horgan will probably hold the record for longer than Canning had it, and possibly Shefflin too, who held it for 11 years after surpassing Eddie Keher in 2010. Keher’s record had stood since 1972 when he overtook Ring.

CHALLENGERS

However, Horgan’s expected grip on that record isn’t clear-cut either because TJ Reid is currently only 47 points behind Horgan.

During Kilkenny’s game against Laois in the round-robin, Reid also joined an exclusive club with Canning, Horgan and Shefflin by surpassing the 500 points mark.

Reid has played one more game than Horgan. He is also a year older, but the Kilkenny man’s ability to shoot up the charts can’t be dismissed. Reid’s climb may be all the quicker again if Horgan is only used as an impact player for the remainder of Cork’s championship.

If Reid doesn’t catch Horgan, nobody else might do so for at least a decade or more, if ever. Tony Kelly is now in the top 10 list but he is still 295 points behind Horgan. Jason Forde is 359 points off the top while Aaron Gillane is 370 points back from the Glen Rovers man. All those numbers further underline Horgan’s incredible achievement.

Reid’s chase is only a tiny sub-plot for now but it may become a more central narrative if Reid gets closer to Horgan’s record than many expected him to at the outset of this championship. If he gets within touching distance, that debate will then stretch into 2023 if Reid returns.

For now though, that’s a debate that might never happen. In any case, all Horgan wants at this stage is what may now be his final crack at winning that coveted All-Ireland medal.

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