Fan the pride of The Village

IT’S hardly surprising, given their preeminence in hurling, that Kilkenny supplied the first father-and-son combination in the GAA All Stars scheme.

That honour fell to the Larkins when Philly won an award in 2002, adding to the four won by his father ‘Fan’ between 1973 and ‘78 — another link in a remarkable family achievement over three generations.

Paddy Larkin — Fan’s father — played in seven All-Ireland hurling finals between 1932 and 1940, winning four medals. Fan went one more, winning five in nine appearances over a 16-year period and Philly won in 2000, ‘02 and ‘03. The fact that all three won Railway Cup and national league medals makes them unique in hurling annals.

Fan Larkin is recognised as one of the outstanding defenders of his generation with Eddie Keher saying, “pound for pound, he was the best corner-back he ever encountered”. He would also be acknowledged as a great character and, almost uniquely among Kilkenny hurlers, a big football supporter.

Playing in a losing minor final in 1959, his career path was highlighted by the winning of his first All-Ireland medal in 1963 and the last of his five in 1979. In between, he was out of the scene, missing out on three finals, two in which the Cats were winners.

After he played in the 1964 final, he just disappeared off the scene.

“That’s the way it went that time, the same as [Sean Óg] Ó hAilpín down in Cork, only I was younger. You’d be disappointed of course, feeling you should be on the panel, but I am not saying I should have been on the team.

“There were a lot of great men dropped in every county, just lads thinking they had the better lads. That’s the way it worked. When it came to being a selector, I did the same myself.”

For the greater part of his career he operated at corner-back, usually on the right. But, he played at full-back in the 1978 final against Cork. Brian Cody operated at full-forward and was outplayed by Martin O’Doherty. “He had been top scorer coming into the game,” he pointed out.

The classic 1972 final, when Kilkenny staged a dramatic recovery to outsmart Cork, stands out as among his favourites, along with the win two years later when they reversed the result of the ‘73 final against Limerick.

“I suppose your first one is always the best,’’ he added.

Finishing up after the ‘79 victory over Galway, he might have called it a day if they had beat the Rebels.

“I was gone that year, I was coming to 38,” he recalled. “I was just hanging on, we had a whole young team. Myself, Noel Skehan and Frank Cummins were the oldest.”

At club level, he was a great servant of James Stephens, with his father having also played for the club as well as Tullaroan. He managed to win four championship medals, two of which led to All-Ireland club honours.

The first was against Blackrock in 1976 — he was captain and played a starring role against Ray Cummins. Remarkably, he was heading towards his 42nd birthday when ‘the Village’ claimed their second All-Ireland title in 1982, against Mount Sion.

He is also the holder of two county junior and one senior football medals won with Clan na Gael in the 60s.

“There was no football played in the Village at that time.” he explained. Then, in 1976, with a senior football team up and running, he led the club to championship success.

Interestingly the big ball in Kilkenny was much greater than people would imagine.

“Back then, it was a knockout championship. If you were beaten in the first round, you were gone for the year. Everyone then turned to football.

“If it was that way now, the likes of Henry Shefflin, Jackie Tyrrell and all these lads who are very good footballers would be playing. In this county, to win a football junior medal would be a woeful effort, but you have a chance of winning a hurling medal every year!”

The last of his four championship medals was won in 1981 and it would be 23 years before they would win again — in a thriller against DJ Carey’s Young Irelands. Philly was in this team, along with Cody’s son Donncha and they went all the way to reclaim the All-Ireland title.

He was in Croke Park last weekend for the second football semi-final and, believe it or not, liked what he saw.

“If you were looking at it as a tactical game: the discipline Donegal had, the way they played, it was brilliant. And, if McFadden scored the goal, Dublin wouldn’t have caught them. I’d say the final will be different. Dublin and Kerry will play open football. But, they are all gone defensive, even in hurling — and it’s all Clare men doing it. You take the Dubs, you have [Anthony] Daly and Davy Fitzgerald with Waterford. You might as well be beaten by 20 points as one.”

He sees an urgent need to change the ball because of the distance it can be hit by goalkeepers using plastic hurls.

“Years ago, when the ball would land in the middle of the field, lads would be pulling on it in the air. If they don’t do something, they’ll be having 13-a-side games.

“The ground hurling is gone and no aerial hurling. In most games you’ll see six or seven lads around the ball, rooting and trying to pick it up. I was down in the club recently and they had the ‘82 final on. The game flowed up and down the field. There was some great hurling in it.’’

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