You may covet the silver Eoin Larkin possesses but you don’t want to see what he’s seen. Early in August, he acknowledged just how difficult he found it to get back up to speed — that is Kilkenny speed — after his six-month tour of duty with the Armed Forces in the Golan Heights.
What he mightn’t be so open about admitting was the experience in Syria took as much if not more getting over than the time away from the Kilkenny camp. He does, though, provide insight into how traumatic it was working there.
“It was tough to see because when you come back home and see all the lovely things around, you come into Langtons and get lovely grub and things like that, those people over there, they have nothing. They can’t come out of their houses. There were very little children around, even the streets and things like that. They were all still in their houses but they are going through turmoil.
“It is not in a good state now compared to what it used to be like. What it is like now? It is in ruins. If you go into any housing estate here, look at all the children playing, yet when you go over there, it’s a total different kettle of fish.
“We were patrolling that border [Israeli-controlled Syria and Syria]. It was more challenging than my previous tour, because when I was in Kosovo, the war had finished. They were just rebuilding their lives. Things are still going on out there, not as bad as they were. We stayed inside the camp, confined there. There were a couple of explosions in a five- kilometre radius, but that was about it.”
Croke Park on Sunday is a world away from the Golan Heights.
The nerves he will feel this week are nothing like those he experienced before heading out on the tour of duty.
“When you go over there and see that kind of stuff you tend to just regard hurling as a sport. You always want to do the best at what you’re doing and that’s hurling for me but it certainly has gone down the pecking order when you see things like that over there.”
Aside from running, pucking a ball against the wall with the odd puckabout with indifferent colleagues thrown in was the extent of Larkin’s preparation there. When he returned, there was no sign of rustiness in the couple of games he played for James Stephens but Kilkenny was obviously another step up.
The 32-year-old started the Leinster games against Dublin and Galway but was omitted from the starting line-up for the drawn game against Waterford before returning to the side in the replay.
“I felt I was in good shape, my touch was good but championship pace caught me and I found it hard to get back up to that pace. Hopefully, I’m back up to it now and can gather a bit of form.
“I never looked at it as I lost it; I never had it in the first place. Brian [Cody] always picked the team on training and my form wasn’t good at the time so I knew I had to fight my way back and thankfully I got on the last day and done okay. It’s just a matter of putting your head down, working hard and seeing where it takes you.”
It was around about this time last year that rumours surfaced Larkin had cut a cast off his broken thumb to convince Cody he was fit to play the final, which he was.
“No-one wants to be injured going into an All-Ireland final. When I got the X-ray back to say it was broke but there was only a crack in it, I had my mind made up that I wanted to play. I had a chat with Brian that evening and he wanted to know how I felt and I told him I’d be grand. I didn’t train with the lads for the two weeks leading up to it.”
Neither did Michael Fennelly and Richie Hogan did little or nothing either but Kilkenny are a team that thrive on showing up on the day as opposed to leaving it in Nowlan Park the week or two prior to a game.
“The one thing we always say is try and get a performance out on the big days. You can do all the training in the world and leave the performance behind, which is the most important thing because training, really, is only preparing for the game and if you don’t perform on the day all that training is wasted.”
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