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Horgan has eyes on Premier prize

PATRICK HORGAN considers a question pertaining to this year's Munster hurling final and the ramifications of what another defeat would have meant for the Cork psyche. He is asked if they simply had to win it? "Yeah," he affirms, "there was no choice, really."

Perhaps Horgan felt it more than his Leeside colleagues, given he was the player controversially sent off (a red card later rescinded) on the cusp of half-time in last year's Munster decider. Cork were level at the time; with 14 men they would eventually falter in the home straight and lose to Limerick by nine.

A more plausible reason, though, is that the Cork collective were crying out for a trophy - any trophy - after losing last year's Munster and All-Ireland finals, coupled with the league deciders of 2010 and '12.

Jimmy Barry-Murphy was part of two different Cork teams that won Munster five-in-a-rows in the '70s and '80s. Now, as manager, he was trying to end an eight-year provincial famine. "We had to do something to get a cup, get a bit of silverware," Horgan confirms.

Once Limerick had been put to the sword and the Sunday night celebrations put to bed, however, Cork and their star forward have quickly readjusted their antennae. With a potentially tricky five-week break to this Sunday's All-Ireland SHC semi-final against Tipperary, it must almost feel like a new season.

This is reflected in Horgan's mentality now.

"We enjoyed the night [of the Munster final] as it was and, since then, it's like we haven't even won it. All we're looking forward to is the next game," he stresses.

"When the season's over, we might look back on what we've won ... but this team wants to win something bigger. The first step now is next Sunday."

FLURRY

It's six years since the Glen Rovers man, now 26, made his senior championship debut as a late sub in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. It came against Sunday's opposition and it wasn't a happy occasion on Leeside, Horgan confined to the last few minutes of a Munster semi-final that saw Tipp storm from from behind to win by six with a flurry of points in the last ten minutes.

Ever since, this scoring machine has been busy racking up prodigious tallies while waiting, and waiting, for the validation of medals. For a few fleeting seconds, last year's remarkable All-Ireland race was on course to be crowned by his dexterous late 'winner' ... until Clare corner-back Domhnall O'Donovan, with his even later leveller, changed the course of history.

In that context, beating Limerick last month was a "huge" relief to a player whose eight-point tally brought his four-game summer total to a towering 2-41 (0-10 from play).

"We were after being in a lot of finals but we just couldn't get over the line. We played well in a lot of games, but winning (this time) gives us that bit of confidence," he says.

"If you look back, we played two league finals, one against Galway and one against Kilkenny, and both teams were just really good.

"We got beaten in a Munster final after extra-time (against Waterford in 2010); we were beaten in an All-Ireland after a replay. It's not that we were playing badly, we were just coming up against good teams on the day.

"In the Munster final, I think we showed how good we were when things opened up in the second half."

That performance, especially Cork's slow start, wasn't note-perfect but it continued a positive trend dating back to the last 25 minutes of their rollercoaster Munster opener against Waterford in May.

It took Cork forever to get going that day - cue a nine-point deficit at one stage - but they've maintained a solid level of performance ever since. This is reflected in the subsequent margins: they had 14 points on Waterford in the replay, five on Clare, six on Limerick.

The scoring rates have been similar, too: 0-28, 2-23 and 2-24 in the above trilogy.

"We're after bringing in a bit of consistency now. In our last three games we've improved in every one of them - that's a good sign of a team," Horgan surmises.

HORRIFIC

Their drive to become fitter, stronger, to improve with every session, is epitomised by Paudie O'Sullivan, who has stormed back into the selection frame after last year's horrific double leg break. He scored 1-1 after replacing stricken skipper Pa Cronin in the Munster final, his goal proving the game-clincher.

"If there was anyone deserved it, it was Paudie - after being off for over a year, setback after setback," Horgan remarks.

"There's no one, outside our team, who knows how much he's after putting into it.

"I was just delighted for him that he could come on and get a goal. He trained twice a day for the last year and there was no end to the road. He really deserved that."

But now Munster is parked. Next up Tipp. "All we think about is going to the next game. I know we've won Munster but, like I said, we want something bigger.

"We want nothing else only the All-Ireland," Horgan declares.

"It'd be really big, but we're not going to get carried away and start thinking ahead either. We're playing Tipperary next Sunday and we know how much of a challenge they're going to bring. They're obviously a brilliant side."

Is he over last year? "It's weird, I can't remember feeling too bad about it," he admits.

"Obviously, you feel terrible for a couple of weeks but we went on a holiday as a team and, as soon as we came back, we went training. And as soon as we went training, we knew by the way fellas were going for it, that we were going to give it everything to try and get back there this year."


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