PATRICK Horgan enters the championship arena this weekend as hurling's all-time top scorer.
While the 2022 campaign saw the four-time All-Star dropped midstream, on the bench for the win over Antrim and loss to Galway, he had already overtaken Joe Canning and Henry Shefflin on the list of sharpshooters.
Horgan sniped six points in those sub appearances, the first time he'd been omitted from the starting line-up since the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final, and the season concluded with his tally up to 22-516 from 71 games. Given he's 35 next month, the appointment of Pat Ryan as manager could have signalled the end of his inter-county career but he remains in the mix to face Waterford on Sunday.
That increases competition at the A versus B in-house games and gives the management the right blend of youth, harvested from the back-to-bak U20 winning teams, and experience.
Should Horgan start the first round against Davy Fitzgerald's Waterford? It'll certainly be hard to leave him out.
Despite the high mileage, he is arguably fitter and stronger than he was 10 years ago. His ball-winning, in the air and in terms of getting out in front of his marker, hasn't diminished. Along with his deadly wrists, that means he's still a lethal weapon.
The makeup of the Cork team for Sunday, especially up front, is hard to predict. The six forwards picked for last season's defeat to Galway were Robbie O'Flynn, Seamus Harnedy, Shane Kingston, Tim O'Mahony, Alan Connolly and Conor Lehane. Horgan, Jack O'Connor and Alan Cadogan came on.
All of them missed portions of the league through injury, with Connolly ruled out in the medium term, while Ryan and his selectors would have been impressed by Shane Barrett's return to form this spring and his Blarney club comrade Pádraig Power's promising efforts. Conor Cahalane, the returning Deccie Dalton, Brian Hayes and Seán Twomey are physical alternatives in attack and Brian Roche, if not selected for his debut in midfield, could operate as a hard-working wing-forward.
He converted the winning free in the Munster Hurling League final win over Tipp and then started the league opener against Limerick. He looked razor-sharp that night, struck 0-10, three from play, but then missed a chunk of time with a leg injury.
It was frustrating given a knee issue ruled him out of the business end of the Premier Senior Hurling season with Glen Rovers last year, the first time he'd been unavailable for the club. To emphasise how effective Horgan still is, he was the top-scorer by a distance in the 2021 PSHC when the Glen made the final, losing to Midelton.
Of Horgan's 6-56 for the club, 6-19 came from play, an average of 1-3 outside of placed balls. His consistency for the Blackpool outfit is staggering.
He was back in Rebel red for the league semi-final last month at Nowlan Park, and clipped three frees in a lively second-half cameo.
The Glen legend's metronomic free-taking, especially in the familiar surrounds of Páirc Uí Chaoimh, elevates his importance, though Kingston was solid in that regard in recent months. Depending on how he's deployed, Horgan could be passed out as hurling's ultimate hot shot by Kilkenny talisman TJ Reid.
The powerhouse Cats forward was kept in cold storage during the league after his exploits with Ballyhale Shamrocks but on Saturday against Westmeath, he landed 0-9. That pushed him ahead of Joe Canning and Henry Shefflin and into second, just 11 points behind Hoggie.
Kilkenny are stronger All-Ireland contenders than Cork, have an extra round-robin game in Leinster, and if their season goes well, there's every chance it ends with Reid as the championship top-scorer.
It's an interesting subplot to the action over the next three months.
22-516 from 71 games.