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Larkin hoping experience will make it Stephens' day

Eoin Larkin

By Jim O'Sullivan
EOIN LARKIN smiles when recalling the 2004 Kilkenny county hurling final.

That was the day James Stephens survived a sensational finish when DJ Carey blew a free over the bar having earlier scored three goals from such range. But that was also the day when Eoin Larkin announced himself to the hurling world.

It ended a barren spell for the proud 'Village' club which had stretched back 23 years. They then progressed to the All-Ireland final last March where they became champions for the third time.

Those short six months kickstarted Larkin's reputation as arguably the best centre-forward in the game and earn a call-up for the Allstars trip to Singapore.

The value of the Singapore visit was two-fold - allowing him get to know a host of new players and, more pertinently, gave him a break from training for the All-Ireland semi-final meeting with Portumna in Thurles tomorrow.

His hurling CV is strangely sparse. He was brought onto the Kilkenny minor panel for the 2002 semi-final against Galway. And, two years later he was on the bench when Kilkenny won the All-Ireland U21 title.

But, this star began to shine brightly after some outstanding performances in the county championship, including 11 points in that victory over Gowran before ultimately finishing as the top scorer in the All-Ireland series.

"Winning the county championship in 2004 was very special because it was so long since we had last won the title," he says.

"We lost a final in 1996, as well as a couple of semi-finals. Confidence in the club was a bit low. It was my third year in the team, and we had lost at the semi-final stage in the previous two semi-finals - to the eventual champions. It meant so much to so many people, including the likes of Brian Cody who was on the last team that won the All-Ireland and his son (Donncha) was on this team." He admits the subsequent campaign passed him by too quickly.

"It was all hype - we were enjoying it so much, just looking forward to the next day. After the All-Ireland final we were over the moon. It was a dream come through after winning your first county final.

"We always knew that last year we would come under a lot of pressure. Everyone wants to knock the champions. It was just a matter of going out every day and doing your best - and hoping to win. And we managed that. The county final against Shamrocks (the last side to retain the championship, back in the 80's) was the toughest. But, it wasn't like the game against Gowran. I don't think my heart could have dealt with that if it was like the previous final," he joked.

The experienced gained last season has been key to their progress in this run. With just one change in personnel it means the side are settled and the players know each other's strengths and weaknesses. It's all about "trying to work together," he points out. And, of course, Philly Larkin (his second cousin), Peter Barry and Brian McEvoy have been providing invaluable leadership. "It's nice to have these helps around to bring on myself and the others. They push us hard." Larkin is one who has benefited hugely from such help. "I'm just delighted to get the opportunity with the club. We know we mightn't get it again for another couple of years, so we're going to make the best of it while we can." Other than recognising the presence - and influence - of the Galway players, he knows little about Portumna. But, that's the way he likes it.

"I just try to concentrate on my own game. Other people are different, they want to know about their opponents. I just try to get my own game right. "They're going to have a ferocious hunger. They got caught in the semi-final two years ago by Dunloy when they were expected to win.

"I don't think they're going to slip up like that this time. They're going to be all out to win."

 

Larkin hoping experience will make it Stephens' day

Eoin Larkin

By Jim O'Sullivan
EOIN LARKIN smiles when recalling the 2004 Kilkenny county hurling final.

That was the day James Stephens survived a sensational finish when DJ Carey blew a free over the bar having earlier scored three goals from such range. But that was also the day when Eoin Larkin announced himself to the hurling world.

It ended a barren spell for the proud 'Village' club which had stretched back 23 years. They then progressed to the All-Ireland final last March where they became champions for the third time.

Those short six months kickstarted Larkin's reputation as arguably the best centre-forward in the game and earn a call-up for the Allstars trip to Singapore.

The value of the Singapore visit was two-fold - allowing him get to know a host of new players and, more pertinently, gave him a break from training for the All-Ireland semi-final meeting with Portumna in Thurles tomorrow.

His hurling CV is strangely sparse. He was brought onto the Kilkenny minor panel for the 2002 semi-final against Galway. And, two years later he was on the bench when Kilkenny won the All-Ireland U21 title.

But, this star began to shine brightly after some outstanding performances in the county championship, including 11 points in that victory over Gowran before ultimately finishing as the top scorer in the All-Ireland series.

"Winning the county championship in 2004 was very special because it was so long since we had last won the title," he says.

"We lost a final in 1996, as well as a couple of semi-finals. Confidence in the club was a bit low. It was my third year in the team, and we had lost at the semi-final stage in the previous two semi-finals - to the eventual champions. It meant so much to so many people, including the likes of Brian Cody who was on the last team that won the All-Ireland and his son (Donncha) was on this team." He admits the subsequent campaign passed him by too quickly.

"It was all hype - we were enjoying it so much, just looking forward to the next day. After the All-Ireland final we were over the moon. It was a dream come through after winning your first county final.

"We always knew that last year we would come under a lot of pressure. Everyone wants to knock the champions. It was just a matter of going out every day and doing your best - and hoping to win. And we managed that. The county final against Shamrocks (the last side to retain the championship, back in the 80's) was the toughest. But, it wasn't like the game against Gowran. I don't think my heart could have dealt with that if it was like the previous final," he joked.

The experienced gained last season has been key to their progress in this run. With just one change in personnel it means the side are settled and the players know each other's strengths and weaknesses. It's all about "trying to work together," he points out. And, of course, Philly Larkin (his second cousin), Peter Barry and Brian McEvoy have been providing invaluable leadership. "It's nice to have these helps around to bring on myself and the others. They push us hard." Larkin is one who has benefited hugely from such help. "I'm just delighted to get the opportunity with the club. We know we mightn't get it again for another couple of years, so we're going to make the best of it while we can." Other than recognising the presence - and influence - of the Galway players, he knows little about Portumna. But, that's the way he likes it.

"I just try to concentrate on my own game. Other people are different, they want to know about their opponents. I just try to get my own game right. "They're going to have a ferocious hunger. They got caught in the semi-final two years ago by Dunloy when they were expected to win.

"I don't think they're going to slip up like that this time. They're going to be all out to win."