pointing the way

'It's only when he retires from inter-county hurling, fellas will really appreciate what this guy has done for Cork'

Through player and selector roles, Diarmuid Sullivan has witnessed what Patrick Horgan offers for Cork.

DIARMUID O’SULLIVAN BELIEVES Cork’s Patrick Horgan deserves to be bracketed along with TJ Reid and Joe Canning amongst the best forwards in hurling, and is convinced the 30-year-old will end his wait for an All-Ireland senior hurling medal before he retires.

Pat Horgan after the game Patrick Horgan after Cork's victory over Waterford in June. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

O’Sullivan was anchoring the Cork defence as a player a decade ago when Horgan made his senior championship debut and was a selector last year when the Glen Rovers man overtook Christy Ring as Cork’s all-time top scorer in the hurling championship.

Horgan will be in action in his seventh All-Ireland hurling semi-final against Limerick on Sunday but has only tasted victory once when he bagged a crucial goal against Dublin in 2013, suffering defeats to Kilkenny in 2008 and 2010, Galway in 2012, Tipperary in 2014 and Waterford in 2017 at the last four stage.

He is still bidding to be part of a Liam MacCarthy Cup triumph for the first time yet O’Sullivan feels the attacker’s worth will only be appreciated when he retires.

Paddy Power (7) Cork Hurling Legend and Paddy Power GAA ambassador Diarmuid O'Sullivan was speaking ahead of Sunday's game in Croke Park.

“I just can’t understand some pundits views that they can’t have him in the same conversation as TJ Reid and Joe Canning. It does my head in.

“Who are the top forwards in the country? TJ Reid, Joe Canning. How Patrick Horgan cannot warrant or even come into that discussion is frightening. I’ve seen the lad since he’s a young age (with) his dedication (and) his discipline to his game and to Cork.

“He’s carried Cork teams. I couldn’t speak highly enough about him. His scoring record in championship games for Cork alone surpasses anyone. It’s only when he’ll be finished with Cork that Cork people and these other so-called pundits that haven’t given him the respect that he deserves, will realise just how good he is.

“I would really, really love to see him win one, of all guys. There’s a couple of lads – himself and Nash, Joycey – they’ve been very, very loyal to Cork and very honest in the way they play the game.

“Fellas are going to be judged at the end of the day, did he finish with an All-Ireland medal? Cork have won an All-Ireland in every decade, I do believe Cork will win one in this decade. Fellas are saying you’re mad.

“They will and Patrick Horgan will be still involved in that, I’ve no doubt. At this level the way he’s hurling, he’s another two to three years left in him. I do believe he will win one.”

Pat Horgan celebrates scoring his sides opening goal Patrick Horgan celebrates hitting the net for Cork against Limerick. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

O’Sullivan feels Horgan has adapted his style of play to cope with the challenges facing forwards in the modern game. Horgan collected his second All-Star award last year while his form this summer helped Cork claim Munster honours as he struck 1-42 over the course of five outings.

“I think Patrick has evolved a small bit himself. It’s all very fine saying Patrick, we know what he’ll score in a game. You present him with an opportunity, he’ll take a score. We saw some of the scores he got in the Munster final, he caught a ball down low, he swivelled low to the ground and turned. It’s only he can do that but I think he’s evolved his game.

“Patrick would have been kind of one-dimensional before, stand in his position, win the ball. Now he’s thinking outside the box, where’s the space, where can I go? If I want to be on the ball and I don’t have it and they have it, I have to go get it back to give my team-mate an opportunity. That’s the way he’s seeing it.

“If I can win the ball back to Christopher Joyce or Mark Coleman or whoever and I get myself back into position, they’ll give me the ball. So therefore there’s a scoring opportunity. A lot of his scores are coming that way.

“He’s just evolved his own game and he knew he had to because obviously the game is changing. It’s only when he retires from inter-county hurling, fellas will really appreciate what this guy has done for Cork.”

While Horgan is part of a Cork attack that is firing with captain Seamus Harnedy also in impressive form, O’Sullivan is conscious of the defensive concerns that exist in the Rebel rearguard.

Limerick’s Seamus Flanagan and Clare’s John Conlon have enjoyed success as target men close to goal against Cork but O’Sullivan insists that it is a collective problem to solve for the Cork team rather than laying the blame at the full-back line.

John Conlon and Damien Cahalane Clare's John Conlon and Damien Cahalane of Cork in action in the Munster final. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“Cork need to be very careful in the way they approach the game. Clare did it for 35 minutes, Cork seemed to play with a structure where it was just attack, attack, attack. They need to marry a defensive structure with an attacking structure. When I talk about attacking structure, it’s the way Cork have always won games. We’ve played the Cork way, we’ve attacked the Cork way.

“But they’ll just have to be careful. They can’t allow space in front of Sean, Damien and Colm again because it doesn’t matter how good you are or how good you have been previously, if that space is in front of you, that 50, 60 metres, it’s just impossible.

“I see the three of them coming in for heavy criticism from that first Limerick game and the Munster final but it’s what’s in front of them. Your half-back line, your two midfielders, your half-forward line, become key. Can you close that space down?

“It’s basically down to hard work. Cork will have to work extremely hard because it’s unforgiving inside in that full-back line if there’s that much space in front of you. If they do find they’re in a similar situation, they’ll be in for a tough 70 minutes on Sunday. Cork need to work a lot, lot harder when they don’t have the ball.”

Seamus Flanagan and Colm Spillane Seamus Flanagan was one of the stars for Limerick in their clash with Cork in June. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

And despite the pattern of recent semi-final losses for Cork, three-time All-Ireland senior winner O’Sullivan is optimistic about their current state entering the showdown with Limerick.

“I think they’re in a wonderful position. They’re undefeated all year. They’ve played five serious championship games, won three, drawn two, they’re in a very strong position.

“It’s disappointing, them results from a Cork perspective. This is a different year, it’s a different team. There’s new lads introduced, there’s a new squad, there’s a new management. They’ll hold no baggage from last year, I think they have to take Sunday’s game on their own merits.

“What’s gone is gone, they are days in their lives they can never get back again so why dwell on that fact? Sunday is an opportunity to go out again to stake a claim to get into an All-Ireland final.”

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