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Patrick Horgan celebrates scoring Cork's goal late in the game against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final

Patrick Horgan celebrates scoring Cork's goal late in the game against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final

SPORTSFILE

Patrick Horgan celebrates scoring Cork's goal late in the game against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final

SHOOTING the breeze with Patrick Horgan on a Friday lunchtime in Cork's Silver Springs Hotel. He's travelled in from Carrigtwohill, just a 10-minute drive he assures us, and during the course of a conversation that lasts over 40 minutes, nothing is off-limits.

Horgan politely declines the offer of food but he's more than generous with his time.

We suggest that hurling is on the cusp of a glorious new era, akin to the mid-1990s when a cluster of teams set out each year with genuine aspirations of provincial and All-Ireland glory.

Horgan nods in agreement, suggesting that inter-county hurling is now as competitive as the NFL. A big fan of American Football, Horgan keeps a close eye on the fortunes of the New England Patriots and he was in Boston before Christmas to watch them play against the Miami Dolphins.

He stayed up for the Superbowl, too, mesmerised by Peyton Manning's spectacular meltdown.

REVERED

As a top sportsman in his own right, we wondered if the woes experienced by the revered Denver Broncos quarterback struck a chord with Horgan. He's heard the 'choker' tag bandied about in relation to Manning but isn't comfortable with it.

Horgan says: "That's probably not fair, to call him that. But he's still not better than Tom Brady!

"One of the Seahawks said it, they were after working out the hand signals. The Broncos called a play and the boys (Seahawks) knew where it was going."

Horgan is a keen admirer of Brady, another of the NFL's top playmakers, but one man stands tall above all others.

"In hurling, it's DJ (Carey) and Eoin Kelly from Tipp," Horgan reveals.

"Overall, it's Tiger (Woods), Tiger's the man. And Tom Brady. Tiger first, Tom Brady second."

Closer to home, there's not many that Horgan would hold in higher esteem than Jimmy Barry-Murphy.

And the 25-year-old All Star forward reckons that JBM is perfectly handling a tricky period of transition on Leeside.

Sean Og O hAilpin, John Gardiner, Donal Og Cusack, Tom Kenny and Niall McCarthy have slipped away during JBM's second coming, some quietly, some not so much.

"That's the thing about him (JBM)," Horgan says. "If he sees what's best for a team going forward, he'll make any call that's needed.

"Soundest man of all time, ring him any time and ask him anything and he'll do it for you. There's no bother with him, encouragement non-stop."

Like that fateful incident in last summer's Munster final when what Horgan insists was an accidental tap on Paudie O'Brien's helmet resulted in a straight red card from referee James McGrath.

A controversial call and one that Horgan, discussing the incident in detail for the first time since it happened, is still unhappy about.

"When I got sent off, I was thinking, 'Jesus, I'm going over to the line here now, Jimmy's going to kill me,'" Horgan recalls.

"That's why I walked over so slow; he's going to kill me here!

"I got there and he was like 'never mind that'. I'm saying 'right.'

"I still didn't know what was after happening and then we went into the dressing-room and he wasn't happy about it at all.

"We saw it then again – I saw the ball hit the front (of O'Brien's helmet) and he's holding the front of his head.

"There was probably a screen around the side, do you know where the cameras are or whatever?

"It was nice to know at that point, after getting sent off, that the management and the boys were behind me, even from then."

Horgan's red card was later quashed on appeal, allowing him to turn in a man-of-the-match performance in the All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Kilkenny in Thurles.

"When I went to go to Dublin (for the hearing), Jimmy came, Pa Cronin and (Anthony) Nash came, good support," Horgan adds.

"I was delighted with that. Good buzz then when I got off. I shouldn't say got off because I should never have been there."

Horgan is thankful to O'Brien for the support the Limerick player offered him, revealing: "He said he'd go up (to Dublin).

"I said look, it's fine, we'll manage it.

"He had his own team to worry about and it wasn't his fault. I said grand, thanks anyway. It was fine."

The incident itself occurred when Horgan went to tip down a dropping ball in blinding sunshine.

He explains: "I like knocking the ball down. The sun was the worst ever that day. We were all holding our hurleys up like that (gestures as if he's using an imaginary hurl as a visor), waiting for the ball to come out of the sun.

"It came out too close and when I went to meet it, I was just a bit late but at the same time, I wasn't going to kill anyone. It was plain to see that the ball hit him on the front of the head. I actually don't know what the ref was thinking. Even just before that, strange enough, I was out the by sideline and someone passed the ball to me.

"A handy ball, nice pass I think from Seamie Harnedy and I'm not joking, it went over the black spot on the crossbar and the two umpires waved it wide. The linesman was behind me and he said nothing.

"If you're playing a match, especially a Munster final, you want things to be done right. I'm not joking, it was scary. I was saying 'what do you have to do get a point?'"

What he did that night, Horgan can't recall, such was his emotional turmoil.

"I didn't talk to many people anyway," he remarks, visibly struggling for memories.

"Do you know what, I can't remember?

Watching 'The Sunday Game', perhaps?

"Not a hope," he replies.

"Do you know what, I'd like to know what I'd done? I'd say the girlfriend could tell me but I don't know. I was in a shocking mood for a few days.

"It was only when we came away from Dublin (appeal) that I was grand again, knowing that we had a chance to do a bit better."

FORTUNE

Cork and Horgan moved on quickly and the wheel of fortune spun their way when Kilkenny and Dublin lost players to red cards in the All-Ireland series.

For Kilkenny, it was Henry Shefflin while Dublin lost Ryan O'Dwyer at a crucial time in a classic semi-final.

"That (Shefflin red card) was probably the same, shouldn't have been sent off, to be fair," Horgan muses.

"Things just happened in a split second and you could see that he was trying to pull away at the same time. It's not nice to be sent off in a big match, especially for him. It's bad news being sent off, I tell you."

Cork booked their place in the All-Ireland final with an epic semi-final victory over Dublin.

Horgan's late goal, Cork's first of the championship season, sealed a victory as O'Dwyer's dismissal cost Dublin.

"From what I can remember, with the first one, give him a yellow," says Horgan.

"The second one, I can't remember what happened. It's a tough one but when it happens you, it's way worse.

"All you're trying to concentrate on is your own team. When I got sent off, Limerick didn't care, they were trying to concentrate on themselves.

"When the boys (Shefflin and O'Dwyer) got sent off against us, we didn't care, we had our own issues to deal with."

And so a rollercoaster summer had taken Cork to Croke Park and a showdown with familiar opponents – Clare.

The sides had met in two games of huge consequence earlier in the season – Clare winning a relegation shootout before Cork turned the tables in the Munster semi-final.

The Banner men were a far different proposition at the business end of the championship but in stoppage-time, it was Horgan who got a shot away under intense pressure from Brendan Bugler on the Cusack Stand side.

That point could and perhaps should have been the winner but even as Horgan watched the sliotar bisect the Hill 16 uprights, he wasn't so sure.

"Do you know what, I didn't (think it was the winning point) because wasn't there a minute left?

"They were definitely going to get another attack and the way the scores were flowing in that game, Clare had 24 points at the time.

"You'd be thinking there's a minute and a half left, they're going to get a chance.

"They pucked it out, it broke, (Cathal) Naughton got it and he ran down the line.

"We got the sideline down in the corner and the clock was at 72.

"I was saying have a cut at it, if it goes wide we win and if it goes over, just as good.

"But once the referee left the ball be pucked out, it was always going to happen."

When the dust had settled and the Cork players were filing out of their dressing-room, Horgan was corralled by reporters in a media scrum and bristled at suggestions that Clare performed better than Cork.

He said, at the time: "We got three goals. You're criticising us all year for not getting goals. We get three and then you're saying they're better than us."

Maybe the magnitude of the occasion affected the Rebels?

Horgan's response: "Sure we were up by a point, how could it get to us? We were two seconds away from winning an All-Ireland so I don't know what you're all going on about really."

Four months on, his stance hasn't changed.

"It's always the way with us," says the Glen Rovers man, with a hint of frustration.

"It seems like Kilkenny, Tipp and the others seem to be doing it perfect and there always seems to be something wrong with us.

"We couldn't get goals – we got three in both finals and then it's something else.

"I just don't like when anyone suggests that our team is bad in any way or doing anything wrong in any way.

"The last thing you want to hear is someone cutting the team or saying something bad about someone on the team.

"You just want to stand up for the team as a whole."

DREAMS

What the 2013 season, taken in its totality, taught Horgan is that he can now realise his hurling dreams.

This time last year, he wasn't so sure but Cork were competitive and with dual stars Eoin Cadogan, Aidan Walsh and Damien Cahalane thrown into the mix, there's a fair degree of expectation on Leeside.

Horgan, too, can feel it.

"At the start of last year, I didn't think I'd be able to achieve what I want but now, it could happen," he says.

"Same answer you'd probably get off 100pc of GAA players – all they want to win is an All-Ireland.

"And then when you win one, you probably want to win two and then three. That's probably the way it goes."

Patrick Horgan would sure like to know what that feels like. And as Cork surge forward with renewed optimism, perhaps he will.

Irish Independent