GAA Editor @BrianGBarry
Patrick Horgan gunning to take place in the pantheon of Cork hurling greats in All-Ireland final
As he continues to break scoring records, Patrick Horgan is gunning to claim the crowning glory of his career and lead Cork to an All-Ireland title. Watch Cork vs Limerick live on Sky Sports Arena from 2:30pm Sunday.
Last Updated: 19/08/21 1:07pm
Christy Ring, Jimmy Barry Murphy, Ray Cummins, Joe Deane, Patrick Horgan. A non-exhaustive list of great Cork forwards down through the years.
Horgan is the odd one out, however, without a Celtic Cross to his name. But the Glen Rovers sharpshooter will be looking to correct that shortcoming on Sunday afternoon.
The Glen Rovers man made his senior championship debut in 2008. Thirteen years ago saw the dawn of perhaps the deadliest class of marksmen hurling has ever seen. Horgan, Joe Canning, Seamus Callanan and TJ Reid all entered the stage that season, making their championship debuts in the month of June.
All four have achieved greatness in the game. But the three others members of that elite quartet have been named Hurler of the Year and led their counties to All-Ireland glory.
Not that a failure on Sunday should diminish the 33-year-old's achievements on the field of play.
The greatest hurler to never win an All-Ireland title is an unwelcome moniker. But even if that is to be Horgan's fate, he will still leave a remarkable legacy.
The final act of Canning's intercounty career last month was to overtake Henry Shefflin as the championship's all-time top scorer. But the Galway great's lofty status may be short-lived.
Horgan (22-470) is just 31 points behind the Portumna man (27-486) in the charts.
Across his 64 championship games to date, Horgan has an average strike rate of 8.375 per match. If he stays fit heading into 2022, he will likely take the crown at some point next season.
He could also become the top scorer in a single season for the first time this summer. Tony Kelly currently leads the way for 2021 on 3-41. Horgan (0-42) could overtake the Clare star on Sunday if he hits nine points.
The Lee-siders' marksman is already the top point-scorer from play in the history of championship hurling. And Cork's all-time top-scorer to boot.
But thoughts of personal accolades will all be secondary on Sunday afternoon. It will be about achieving his ultimate goal.
"You look at those stats and how consistent he has been over the last decade. He is one of several great forwards of the modern era. TJ Reid, Seamus Callanan, Joe Canning. He's up there. And his record stands to prove that," outlines Jamesie O'Connor.
"But there will be an asterisk beside [his name] in his own eyes as much as anyone else's if he doesn't land that All-Ireland medal. If he can get his hands on one after Sunday, you look at the great Cork forwards, going back to Ring, Jimmy-Barry, Joe Deane, Seanie McGrath, all the great forwards in the 1970s, he's right up there. Given how consistently and long he has done it for, given how important he is to the team."
There will be an asterisk beside his name in his own eyes as much as anyone else's if he doesn't land that All-Ireland medal.
O'Connor says Horgan will be feeling the pressure
No evolution needed for hurling's Mr Consistent
Over the years, many of the great forwards have been forced to adapt and change their game.
Canning was no longer Galway's one-man scoring machine. He showed in the Waterford defeat this summer his prowess at a play-maker.
Reid has bulked up and offers a real physical presence, along with his raw hurling ability.
Callanan has become more of a goal-poacher, if possible, rattling the net with more frequency throughout the autumn of his career.
But it could be argued that Horgan's role has remained largely the same - a lethal inside forward. As dangerous as ever, if not more-so.
So what tweaks has he made to ensure he has remained at the top level?
"There was a massive change in Hoggy in 2017," explains former team-mate Anthony Nash.
"Gary Keegan came in as a sports psychologist and high-performance coach. And in 2019, Doug Howlett came in. And he really engaged with those people on the psychological side of things.
"He's actually after improving with age. When he was 12 or 13, there were stories of him putting up scores above in Glen Rovers against U16s and minors. So he has been earmarked since day one.
"As a team-mate, he has been absolutely phenomenal. You were always expecting miracles from him, and most of the time he did it, especially that day against Kilkenny when he got 3-10 and almost single-handedly dragged us over the line.
"Of all the people that have played for Cork over the years, he deserves it (an All-Ireland medal). Unfortunately you don't always get what you deserve.
"For me, whether he gets it or not will never, in my eyes after being in a dressing room with him, deteriorate his career or anything like that.
"Of all the players on Sunday, he is going to be so motivated. He is going to be so up for this game, and I expect an absolutely massive performance. Unless Sean Finn or Dan Morrissey can have the games of their lives and keep him quiet. We just saw glimpses of it against Huw Lawlor the last day. He doesn't even look at the posts. He gets the ball. He's almost impossible to mark. I'd hate to be a defender on him. And I'd expect a massive performance from him."
A point to prove?
It is said that big game players make big game plays. And Horgan has never been one to shirk responsibility down through the years.
But he may feel he has a point to prove on Sunday.
In the Munster semi-final defeat to Limerick, he missed a penalty that would have put the Rebels 2-5 to 0-6 ahead in the 25th minute. It proved a turning point, as the Treaty built on the momentum of Nickie Quaid's save to establish a six-point lead at half-time.
In the All-Ireland semi-final, Horgan failed to convert what looked like a straightforward '65' to put the game out of Kilkenny's reach, moments before Adrian Mullen's dramatic equalising goal to force extra-time.
He will be gunning to set the record straight on Sunday.
A more balanced attack
Given Horgan's consistency, Cork's return to an All-Ireland final has not been down to him raising his game.
It has rather been a result of the other Cork forwards stepping up to the plate.
In 2019, Horgan scored 3-10 of Cork's 3-18 tally in an All-Ireland semi-final defeat. The other five starting forwards accumulated 0-6 that day, with the substitutes failing to score.
Against the Cats two weeks ago, Horgan hit 0-15 of Cork's 1-37. The remainder of the starting forwards amassed 1-8, with the bench adding 0-11.
The reliance on Horgan has lessened, but he has not dipped his standards.
One would suspect that Patrick Horgan loathes his description as one of the greatest hurlers to never win an All-Ireland. A compliment it may be, but a reminder of his near misses down through the years. He has the chance on Sunday afternoon to ensure he will never be in that conversation again.
Watch Cork vs Limerick live on Sky Sports Arena from 2:30pm Sunday.