Horgan still driven to seek self-improvement
By John Harrington
Patrick Horgan didn’t bother watching last weekend’s matches in the Munster Senior Hurling Championship.
This might surprise some, but he admits he has little interest in the inter-county game “unless it’s something to do with Cork.”
Ask him what he did on Sunday if he didn’t watch the games and he has to think for a while until remembering he spent most of the afternoon sleeping before making his daily visit to his mother’s house.
The way he sees it, hurling for Cork occupies so much of his energies that when he’s not training, playing, or analysing his game, then it’s best if he gives his mind and body a break by switching off from the game totally.
Of course, there are very few days or even portions of the day when Horgan isn’t working hard to be the very best hurler he can be for club or county.
He recently turned 31 and has been hurling for Cork for the past 12 seasons but he’s arguably still improving as a player.
Before this Championship is over there’s a more than decent chance he’ll go from fifth to third on the All-time Championship top scorers list, passing out greats of the game Eoin Kelly and Eddie Keher along the way.
That sort of excellence and high achievement doesn’t happen by accident.
Even if he’d prefer to take a nap rather than watch a hurling match that doesn’t involve Cork, when it comes to his own personal development as a player he couldn’t be more serious about the game.
Any rest is well-earned, because were you to log up all the hours he spends on a weekly basis with a hurley in his hand then it’s unlikely many inter-county players are matching his output.
“You're either going one way or the other,” says Horgan. “If you're not trying to get better then you're getting worse.
“The talent that has come through from our U21s the last couple of years and the forwards we have anyway, it's so competitive that fall asleep for a week and you'll find yourself on the bench.
“Like all the forwards, we're all there an hour, more, before training, all trying to get as much as each other done. It's a healthy environment that we go into.
“Either everyone's getting better...if someone falls off, they might not be around too long. That's the kind of mindset that you need to get better all the time and that's where we're at.”
Horgan wouldn’t be where he is today if didn’t enjoy the challenge of not just trying to improve himself but better those around him.
A good chunk of his life has been devoted to the art of practicing free-taking, but it feels like time well spent when he stands over a decisive one in a red-hot Championship match.
That’s the sort of pressurised situation that would cause many to swallow deeply and wish they it was someone else’s responsibility, but Horgan wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“Yeah, I love that,” he said. “I think any forward that trains as much hours a day, I think they're the situations you love to be in.
“The ones where you have to do it or things have to work.
“Any fella worth his salt would tell you the same, would tell you they love being in those situations, yeah.”
Horgan’s consistency for Cork in recent years has been remarkable. Even on a dark day like their first round defeat to Tipperary in the Munster SHC, he was one of the best players on the field, scoring four points from play and 10 from frees.
After that seven point loss, many were quick to write off Cork’s Championship ambitions because next up was a trip to All-Ireland Champions Limerick a week later.
But Horgan did what Horgan does and inspired his team to a stunning seven-point victory by scoring 1-9, 1-3 of it from play.
When everyone outside the camp was doubting them, how did the Cork players catch fire so impressively a week on from the ashes of such a heavy defeat to Tipperary?
“We didn't have much time to listen, to be honest,” said Horgan. “We obviously weren't happy on the day.
“Like, we didn't perform well. We were beaten by seven. We didn't know that Tipp have turned out to be the form team in the country and they're flying and all that.
“But on the day it wasn't good enough for us. We didn't play anywhere near what we are capable of. Yeah, we obviously had to analyse the game as we do for every game.
“We didn't change and we weren't happy with it. We weren't happy when we analysed it ourselves and obviously pointed out a few things that needed to be better the following week and we just worked towards getting those three or four things better during that week.
“Thankfully when Limerick came around they were the three or four things that we were on top of and got a great result of.”
If Horgan doesn’t win an All-Ireland senior medal before his career is over he’ll arguably go down in history as the greatest Cork hurler never to do so.
He doesn’t mind admitting that getting his hands on a Celtic Cross is a burning ambition, but he’s realistic enough to know too that thinking beyond the immediate task at hand in this year’s Championship is asking for trouble.
“We’d be gutted if we didn’t,” said Horgan. “But if you take it back to where we are now, we’ve a game Saturday, if we lose that, talks of an All-Ireland are completely gone. How could you look past that?
“Qualifying in Munster is torture as well because every team is so competitive. There’s going to be two teams who stop playing in two weeks time. Probably both teams are capable of going to an All-Ireland final.
“You saw Waterford there, got to the final two years ago and haven’t qualified out of Munster since.
“That will tell you how hard it is and we know they’re a serious team and how good they can be. So before any big talks down the line, there is so much to be done before that. If we think past that, we’re in big trouble.”
Cork will get their provincial and All-Ireland challenge back on track on Saturday if they beat Waterford, and everyone is expecting them to do just that.
The Deise looked like a team that had downed tools when they were demolished by Limerick last weekend, but Horgan is around long enough not to be lulled into complacency.
“Yeah, that's what everyone will say. We talk about that a lot, what fellas will hear. It doesn't mean anything to us, it can't mean anything to us because as soon as you start slipping into that mindset it's a slippery slope.
“We played Waterford in the same situation last year when they were out and we barely scraped past them.
“I think we went into the lead in the 69th minute or something like that, someone was saying.
“So we know how hard it's going to be and we'll have to be every bit as good as we were against Limerick to have any chance.”