Saturday 24 February 2018

Pat Horgan: Rebels must toughen up to close gap on top sides

Horgan admits Cork lack physicality to compete with likes of Kilkenny

Cork sharpshooter Patrick Horgan
Cork sharpshooter Patrick Horgan

What's happening in Cork hurling? Without an All-Ireland win since 2005 and not really regarded as top-line contenders to win the title any time soon, there's a sense that the Rebels just aren't rebelling in the way they used to.

Not even their most partisan supporters believe that the Liam MacCarthy Cup will be heading Leeside next September, a reality reflected by the bookmaking world, which presents Cork as 10/1 seventh All-Ireland favourites behind Kilkenny, Tipperary, Galway, Clare, Waterford and Limerick.

At 7/1, Cork are a distant fifth to win the Munster title, a challenge made all the more difficult by being drawn against Tipperary in the first round.

And if that wasn't testing enough, Cork have to travel to Semple Stadium, scene of their embarrassing wipeout against Galway this year.

Patrick Horgan knows how the rest of the hurling world looks at Cork nowadays but insists that the squad sees things completely differently.

"We're not bad. You can't go from beating Clare (in this year's All-Ireland qualifiers) and playing so well to not performing at all against Galway. We know what we can do but we need to do it more consistently.

"We won Munster last year and were looking like the best team in the country but then a slip against Tipperary (in the All-Ireland semi-final) and we couldn't get back. We can't have that happening because if you do, you're sitting at home for the rest of the year," he said.

That raises the question of why Cork have lost their place in the queue trying to dislodge Kilkenny.

Supply Lines

The supply lines from underage level haven't been all that productive but, nevertheless, there would be an expectation that Cork could always provide a team capable of challenging for the major prizes.

Horgan believes that they need to be more physically robust in an era when power has become increasingly influential.

"I think we're seen as good hurlers and all that but we probably have to be a bit stronger. If you look at the way Kilkenny tackle and hit, it wears teams out," he said.

"If you can withstand that and bring your own hurling to bear on a game, you have a chance.

"But if you go down the line of being a lovely skilful team, you're going to be blown away by the likes of Kilkenny and Tipperary. It just won't work."

Galway can be added to that list too as they physically overwhelmed Cork in this year's All-Ireland quarter-final, starting very early on when Johnny Glynn remained unchallenged as he galloped in from the left wing to score a goal that set the trend for the day.

Horgan believes that it's crucial for Cork to reach a level where they can compete physically with the other top sides before testing whether their hurling is good enough to match them.

"It's about getting your body in such a shape that you can take the hits and move on. Fellas are running around pitches for months and one hit and they're down on the knees breathless.

"You need a different sort of fitness. That's what Kilkenny bring to everything. They hit hard and often," said Horgan.

Despite the negativity among a large section of the Cork supporters, the reality is that, under Jimmy-Murphy, the team came very close to winning the 2013 All-Ireland title and went on to take the Munster title last year.

It looked like genuine progress, especially when Cork reached this year's Allianz League final, for which they started as favourites to beat Waterford.

However, it all went wrong that day as a newly-constructed Waterford set-up proved far too powerful.

Derek McGrath's ambitious adventurers repeated the dose in the Munster championship, despatching Cork to the qualifiers, where they beat Wexford and Clare before collapsing against Galway in the quarter-final.

It was all in marked contrast to the summer of 2014 when Cork won the Munster title for the first time in eight years and went into the All-Ireland semi-final as favourites, only to be hammered by Tipperary.

"It all seems a long time ago now. We were probably playing the best hurling in the country before the semi-final but, for some reason, we just didn't perform against Tipperary.

"Maybe it was the five-week break since the Munster final but whatever it was, we just didn't show up," said Horgan.

Similar to all other counties, Cork are eyeing Kilkenny enviously and wondering how they manage to retain such high standards every year. Even when they lose players, they are capable of slotting in replacements and carrying on seamlessly.

"The thing about Kilkenny is that their worst is very good. That's the sort of thing we need to get into our game. We need to be able to compete even when we're not going as well as we would like," said Horgan, who is Austin, Texas with the GAA/GPA All-Stars, who played an exhibition game in St Edward's University yesterday.

A new era will be launched in Cork next month when Kieran Kingston begins his managerial reign following the departure of Barry-Murphy after four years in charge.

Kingston was part of Barry-Murphy's backroom team for a spell so he - and the players - can dispense with the 'getting to know you' phase and power straight into action.

"He's really good. We know from the time he was with us that he doesn't do things by halves. He wants everything done at the highest level. When a manager is doing that, you get behind him and do everything you can for him. We're really looking forward to working under Kieran," said Horgan.

He is well aware of the criticisms that are floating around Cork about a squad that is regarded as under-performing. The Cork public expect high standards and were especially disappointed by the tame manner displayed against Galway last July


It manifested itself with attacks on social media, some of which were bitterly personal.

It's a phenomenon that modern-day players have to put up with and Horgan believes that the best way of coping is to ignore what's being said.

"To be honest, I couldn't care less because it's the same people that are doing it all the time. If you play well the next week, they're your friends. I hate to see what's happening but personally I couldn't care less what anyone says about me.

"I'm sure the other lads feel the same. You just have to let it go and get on with your life.

"The people having their say on social media aren't the people who are out training four, five six nights a week, giving everything they have to do their best for their county. I'd say fellas are strong enough to just push that aside and move on. It's the only way."

While Horgan was disappointed with the way the season unfolded for Cork this year, he got huge satisfaction out of helping Glen Rovers to end their long spell without a county hurling title.

"It was brilliant, a great way to end the year. We'd be hoping to do the same next year and obviously I want to push on with Cork too," he said.

Meanwhile, last night's All-Star match ended in a high-scoring 7-15 to 9-9 draw.

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