Cork have turned into a 'different team altogether' since Waterford defeats - Horgan
Rebels forward admits new style is not a road they want to take
It's only been a matter of weeks but when Patrick Horgan looks back now he sees a different time, a different team.
Twice caught in the web spun for them by Waterford in the League final and subsequently their Munster semi-final, the need for reform became compelling for management and players.
So they unveiled new formations in defence and attack, nothing dramatic, just mild tweaking that gives them a more secure feel in a defence that had been a little too chaotic.
Necessary as it may have been for them though, for a Cork team to submit to those adjustments was still a difficult leap. Horgan doesn't dilute that sentiment. Acceptance is grounded in pragmatism.
"It's not something we like seeing or doing but if that's what it takes to be competitive, everyone has to do it," Horgan admitted.
"It's not that attractive to watch but if you're to hang on in a game then you have to do it."
No better example of 'hanging on' than their victory over Clare 12 days ago when they were hit for five points in succession, then reeled off five themselves - Horgan scoring four - for one of the most important victories of Jimmy Barry-Murphy's 'second coming' as Cork manager.
Structurally and mentally, Cork are and feel different from those Waterford days, Horgan says.
"Waterford are a really good team. We even saw it in the Munster final. Tipperary, the highest scoring team in the country, couldn't get away from them," he points out.
"But since those games we've have turned into a different team altogether. I wonder what would happen if we played them again. I don't know."
The "lull" they hit in April that carried into June was probably on them before they knew it.
Tipp caught them late in a League game that didn't matter much to final placings; Wexford posed more problems than the scoreline suggested in their Pairc Ui Rinn quarter-final; they were 10 points adrift against Dublin in the semi-final before Horgan and Conor Lehane engineered a comeback.
It was 'boom and bust' stuff that eventually caught them.
"We were flying for most of the League, went through a lull for four or five weeks. It's hard to get yourself up from that," says Horgan.
"You're hurling since the start of February so it's hard to keep it going the whole way through. We played well in a lot of the League but we just went through a little lull. Now we're back up."
Horgan has found a way himself out of the rut he hit in the two games against Waterford, when he only managed one point from play.
Against Wexford and Clare, he deviated from a 'fixed' position in the full-forward line to take up a deeper and more creative role. That 'freedom' is a licence every Cork forward now carries.
"There is so much movement now that when the balls goes dead you're never in your own position. We take up the position we're in at that time, go on with it from there and see where you end up for the next play," he says.
"You might end up in a totally different position. That's the way it's gone. I think every team is doing that now."
They find themselves at the business end of the hurling championship for the fourth successive year of JBM's management, a run of consistency that only Kilkenny can better over the same period of time.
"People say we're punching above our weight because of our underage record but we'd never see it like that," says Horgan.
"The most you are ever going to get off a good underage team anyway is one, maximum two.
"I just don't believe in that theory that you have to be winning at underage level. Look at the Cork minors this year: they beat Limerick by 10 points in the early rounds of the Munster Championship, lose their best player (Shane Kingston) to a broken bone in a foot, and then lose to Limerick by a goal in the semi-final.
"They'd have fancied themselves to win it. That's that, that's their year. But it doesn't reflect anything about the future."
Cork hurler Patrick Horgan is an Avonmore Protein Milk ambassador. Proceeds from the sales of each milk carton contribute towards the GPA's Player Development Fund. For more information visit www.beready.ie