LUKE O’FARRELL (21), Paudie O’Sullivan (22), Patrick Horgan (23).
That’s the Cork full-forward line for Sunday’s Munster Senior Hurling Championship opener against Tipperary in Thurles; precocious yes, and potentially devastating. The most experienced of the trio is O’Sullivan, who made his debut in the 2007 league, but the senior member, pipping O’Sullivan by six months, is Patrick Horgan, and — arguably — also the most vital member.
He had a superb season last year; the main man with his club as Glen Rovers powered their way to a first Cork county final appearance since 1991, while also excelling in the red jersey, the six-point haul in the All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kilkenny his most outstanding performance.
One caveat, however; a superb striker, good in the air and on the ground, Patrick is at his best in the centre of the action and moreover, is also more comfortable down the middle. “Full-forward is a good position, centre-forward is alright too — the less running the better,” he says. !
Last year, Cork had the giant Aisake Ó hAilpín at full-forward, Patrick in the corner as his foil, and that option is there again for this year with Michael Cussen on standby for Plan B, should the conventional trio not bear fruit.
Then again, mightn’t work as we expect, if Patrick’s earlier experience of playing alongside the mighty Michael is a guide — “I thought it might be the same style when Cussen was put in full-forward, another big man, but I broke the ball for him! He knows it too, I said it to him!”
Still, no matter who happens to be playing alongside him, Patrick has a simple preference. “Anyone who can play and talk at the same time. It’s small things, just a word under the dropping ball — ‘I’m in’, or whatever; you can’t see him but now you trust him to let you know. Ball coming to the full-forward position, you shout ‘leave it through’, and you might be one-on-one with the keeper then. Someone you’re comfortable with, cute fellas.” Well, he’s got them this Sunday, two cute East Cork hurlers in O’Farrell and O’Sullivan.
Two players he won’t have with him, however, are Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and Graham Callanan. Ó hAilpín he knows from having admired him for years on the Cork team, then playing alongside him since his own debut in 2009; Callanan is a long-time clubmate with the Glen. Seán Óg we all know about now, dropped from the panel; Graham dropped out of his own accord a few weeks ago. Just the way things are, says Patrick — digest it, move on. “Seán Óg is a legend, but we can’t look back — what can we do about it? He’s badly missed but there are other fellas in that dressing room as well you’d look up to — Ben O’Connor, Donal Óg, Gardiner.” And Graham? “It’s the same thing for everyone; it’s hard to nail down a position on the Cork team, so many players going for the same position, very competitive. If you’re not the one picked you could be sitting on the sideline for a while, and you’re not playing with your club either. Graham has gone back to the club and he’s playing the hurling of his life. He got four points from play against Bride Rovers a few weeks ago, three against Midleton last week. There’s no pressure on him, and in that form I think he’s one of the best in the county.”
Which brings us to Sunday, and the pressure on Tipp as All-Ireland champions, the pressure on Cork to show last year’s result was no fluke, that they are back with the best. O’Farrell/O’Sullivan/Horgan: so much Cork hope rests on these youngsters.
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