Friday 6 December 2019

'It was nearly impossible but 'Hoggy' did it at the first attempt. The skill he has is unbelievable'

Practice the secret as Glen Rovers star steps up to lead Rebels' attack

Cork sharpshooter Patrick Horgan
Cork sharpshooter Patrick Horgan

Christy O'Connor

On the morning of last month's Clare-Cork Munster semi-final, Glen Rovers trained at 9.0am. Twenty minutes into the session, Ian Lynam, the Glen manager, spotted somebody pucking a ball against the fence. Lynam didn't need to look twice to know it was Patrick Horgan.

"I'd nearly have been more surprised if 'Hoggy' wasn't there," says Lynam, "than if he was."

When the game finished in Thurles that afternoon, Lynam's young son Stephen told his father that they were going straight back to the Glen. Why? Because Horgan always went there after matches for a few pucks. It is what he does. It is who Horgan is.

The family home is only about 200 yards from the club and Horgan effectively grew up in the Glen field. That was his playground and his social environment.

The afternoon after the Clare game, Horgan was there with 30 sliotars. Practising his freetaking. Honing his technique. Enjoying himself. Living his life.

"Hoggy has lived the vast majority of his life in that field," says Lynam. "You will rarely see him in the clubhouse. But you will always see him in the field, any hour of the day or night."

That can be taken literally. When the Glen reached an U-21 county final a few years back, Horgan was training to be an apprentice carpenter and he would go to the pitch at 7.0 every morning to practise his freetaking. It provided another window into his fanaticism, another expression of the enthusiasm which defines Horgan.

Horgan is so much of a fanatic that the Cork management had to rein him in last year. He would arrive to training straight from work and be on the field after 5pm. He could have 200 frees struck before training even began a couple of hours later.

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To get him to row back and keep fresh, management had their own spy in the Glen, who would report back to them on excessive sightings of Horgan on the pitch or in the ball alley. To stop him turning up for Cork training nearly a day in advance, management adopted a more scientific approach with his freetaking.

Brian Cunningham was an excellent freetaker when he played underage for Cork and for St Finbarr's and management brought him on board as a freetaking coach. His work with Horgan focused far more on technique and quality than the vast quantity that Horgan measured himself against.

Numbers were logged and recorded. A database was built up. Horgan's freetaking improved but it was another means of trying to manage an exuberance that knows no bounds.

Horgan's potential and ambition were always limitless. That was evident to those inside and outside the Glen. In 2002, he drove the club to the Division 1 All-Ireland Feile Na Gael title. Two years later, he won the Christy Ring award for the best young forward in Cork. He won Munster minor hurling medals in 2005 and 2006 and was on the senior panel by the end of 2007.

Horgan began the 2008 championship as the last sub introduced against Tipperary but he gradually asserted himself that summer before firing his first flare into the sky with three classy points in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Clare.

He was expected to drive on in 2009 but he found himself stuck in neutral, going backwards even. He was held scoreless in the first round against Tipperary, taken off and then dropped for the first round of the qualifiers.

The following summer was a watershed season for different reasons. Brilliant against Tipp in the first round when scoring 2-2, he was taken off shortly after half-time in the drawn Munster final before being hauled off at half-time in the replay.

Noel Connors restricted Horgan to just seven plays on both days and he was dropped for the All-Ireland quarter-final against Antrim.

HAMMERED

His response was impressive. Cork were hammered by Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final but Horgan really stood up.

As well as scoring four points from play off Jackie Tyrrell, he was fouled for five frees and set up one more point. At the end of that season, Horgan drove the Glen to their first county final appearance in 17 years.

Nobody doubted his talent but Cork needed Horgan to take greater ownership of the team and lead the attack at that stage in his career.

He was handed the captaincy in April 2012 when Donal Og Cusack suffered a season-ending injury but the role didn't suit him. Horgan wasn't comfortable with the responsibility but apart from his laser freetaking, assuming greater responsibility on the pitch was an issue Horgan needed to address.

He was a brilliant finisher but he had a tendency to drift out of games for far too long. In the second half of last year's drawn All-Ireland final, Horgan made just one play.

Yet that play was his late point which put Cork ahead, one of the greatest All-Ireland final scores. Statistics can't always measure impact and Horgan's plays are invariably massive plays.

He was cleaned out in last year's All-Ireland semi-final by Dublin's Peter Kelly. He had only made two plays in the second half before bagging the goal that clinched the game.

"'Hoggy' was probably disadvantaged for a few years in that there was so much expected of him when he first came in," says former Cork team-mate Tom Kenny.

"He needed time to develop his game but he had great confidence in himself. He could always pop up with big scores. You can see now how much his game has matured because he is contributing a lot more this season."

He is a lot fitter and stronger now and his work rate has improved in tandem with that increased development. "Physically," says Lynam, "he is unrecognisable from a couple of years ago."

Horgan has stepped up this summer. After making just one play in the first half of the drawn game against Waterford, Horgan made nine big plays after the break.

He was devastating in the replay when scoring five points from play and engineering four more. He wasn't as effective in open play against Clare but his freetaking was immense. Horgan ended the match with 2-11. He has an unusual style in that he glances at the posts after lifting the ball but he has an unparalleled accuracy.

Horgan doesn't drink or smoke. He used to make his own hurleys and he still has the machine in his shed. Hurling and perfecting his game define his life but Kenny adds colour to the pencil sketch which outlines Horgan's character.

"When I think of 'Hoggy' I see him practising his frees and working on his technique," says Kenny. "He's great buddies with Paudie (O'Sullivan) and we used to call them the Cul Camp kids because they were always on the field.

"The kid in him is always bursting to get out. That's mostly related to hurling and you can see that in the way he is always practising his flicks and tricks. He has great energy and he always wants to be doing something or going somewhere. He loves talking about soccer and other sports and having the craic."

Golf is another passion. "The only thing he has in his car is hurleys and a set of golf clubs," says Lynam. "I don't know what he's playing off but when he hits it, it goes a mile."

Horgan has ferocious power in his arms and wrists but his technique and skill set him apart. Before training one night in 2010, Horgan, Joe Deane and Kieran 'Fraggy' Murphy had a freetaking competition.

Eventually, they were deadlocked before ending up at the corner-flag to decide the shootout. Deane missed but Murphy nailed his. Then Horgan sidled over to Murphy. "You'll give me double points if I score it on my left side."

Murphy laughed and accepted the offer. Striking from the right side at the Blackrock Terrace-Covered Stand end offered some chance of curling the ball in from that angle.

Trying to score off Horgan's left side required huge backhand top-spin to drag the ball to the right and wrap it back around the posts.

Bang. Horgan nailed it.

"It was completely nuts," says Murphy. "It was nearly impossible but 'Hoggy' did it at the first attempt. The skill he has is unbelievable. He is a phenomenal talent."

A skill and talent which has been honed from thousands and thousands of hours in the Glen. His place. His field.

Home.

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