Just another test passed for in-form Larkin and Kilkenny
KEITH DUGGANwas in Thurles to witness the team captain lead his charges with a dynamic display at full-forward
“I’M THIRD choice,” laughed Eoin Larkin, throwing his eyes to heaven when asked about taking frees for Kilkenny, the latest string he has added to his bow.
This was after the ceremonies in Thurles had been concluded; the James Stephens man had lifted the cup and said all the right things in his speech and then stood on the field for a long time signing autographs. By the time he was heading into the dressingroom, some of the Cork players had already exited the ground, downbeat after experiencing one of those days when the Cats play with such verve and aggression it seems as if they have 30 men on the field instead of 15.
Was that one of the best performances Larkin had been part of? “I’m not sure,” he said thoughtfully. “There have been a few of them. No, we are delighted to win and with the performance but the real deal starts in about seven weeks’ time and we have to put a lot of hard work in for that. But we are delighted to be league champions.”
He echoed Brian Cody’s thoughts when he rejected the idea that Kilkenny had used some slight to unleash the demon. It didn’t matter that Cork had beaten them in the league. All the talk about Cork’s resurgence didn’t really register either. In Nowlan Park, they just did what they always do.
“We didn’t really think about what people were saying. We were just concentrating on ourselves because we have had an up and down league and just wanted to get a performance for ourselves. We were lucky enough to get the couple of goals and get a bit of breathing space and then tagged on a couple of points in the second half to kill off the game.”
Kilkenny players have never been given to spitting fire whether they win or lose; they certainly aren’t going to start after a one-sided league final on a chilly summer Sunday in Thurles. Sunday’s game gave the hurling public the clearest picture yet of what the Cats will be like in the post-Henry Shefflin era. The idea – comforting for other teams – that the house would fold once the Ballyhale man departs looked fanciful.
Larkin’s role in Kilkenny’s wonderfully efficient opening 10 minutes was immense; it wasn’t just the text-book turn and finish for his fifth-minute goal but the effortless way in which he brought his forwards into the game. His combination play with Matthew Ruth was thrilling to watch and his inherent appreciation of the full-forward’s role made it seem as if he has been playing there all his life. “I hadn’t much choice but to settle into it. I didn’t really like it at the start but I am getting used to it now.
“It’s different. You have to come on to the ball whereas in wing forward the ball is going over your head and you run onto it. It’s a different part of the field but you get used to it. Sure it’s all about the youth coming in. Matt is there for the last couple of years and when you have young lads coming in and doing that well it is a huge boost to everyone around.
“I thought Cillian Buckley the last day was very good and Richie Doyle is going to be very good. The two of them are fitness fanatics and they are huge into hurling as well and have great ability so I would say they would be there or thereabouts.”
It may be worthwhile reviewing where Kilkenny stood after last year’s league final: soundly beaten by an irrepressible Dublin team and subject to much conjecture that their era of splendour had passed. Larkin was red-carded that day after a moment of frustration which seemed symbolic of the general deterioration of form.
Twelve months later and they have regained the league silverware to add to the All-Ireland won in September. Not that last year’s league frustrations were used as a motivational tool here. “It wasn’t even mentioned in there,” Larkin said. “It was like it was forgotten – well, maybe not forgotten about . . . I still remember it. But I don’t think it had any bearing to be honest.”
He laughed when it was put to him that this latest peerless display will give rise to the usual observation that it is pointless even playing the All-Ireland, that Kilkenny have it sewn up. “I wonder who is going to do that, lads? Ye have to sell papers don’t you? Ye have to write something. No, no: championship is wide open. I don’t think favourites come into it. Championship is always wide open and any team can beat any other team on any given day.
“We will have to go back and work hard and I’m sure Cork will be doing the same thing, going home and working hard and trying to get through to the All-Ireland series the same way as we will.”
Larkin’s work load will be doubled in the next month. As well as knuckling down to Kilkenny’s championship training the Army officer has to burn the midnight oil swotting for the Leaving Certificate. He decided to go back and complete his secondary education and has been based at Collins Barracks in Cork since September, attending the Cork College of Commerce.
While much was made of the fact that Cork’s young midfielder Darren Sweetnam will sit his exams at the beginning of next month, the Kilkenny captain is in the same boat. “I have two weeks in school and two weeks off and then the Leaving for a week so I have five weeks left altogether.”
But passing tests? Larkin has a bit of a track record in that department.