Paul Rouse: Larkin’s 2019 musings will prove a marker for Championship 2020

There’s a lot to be said about the autobiography of Eoin Larkin, the Kilkenny hurler.

Paul Rouse: Larkin’s 2019 musings will prove a marker for Championship 2020

There’s a lot to be said about the autobiography of Eoin Larkin, the Kilkenny hurler.

It is a book that has a fascinating life-story to tell. And this life story is not a straightforward one.

What matters more than anything else is that the book is much more than the story of the life of a brilliant hurler, a man who appeared in 12 All-Ireland finals, winning eight of them.

Working with his ghostwriter, Pat Nolan, Larkin weaves the past and the future into the story of his present.

This is a present which sees Eoin Larkin as a retired inter-county hurler, but one who continues to seek excellence with his club.

It sets out the manner in which he adjusts his life to the fact that he is no longer doing what has was brilliant at on the highest stage.

This adjustment is most obvious when he returns to Croke Park as a supporter of a team that he had so recently played for. There is joy when Kilkenny score and pain when they lose.

There is an unusual aspect to the book — Larkin is unafraid to say what he thinks on a whole range of different things.

He reveals of himself, but he also reveals his opinions of other people and other events.

It would be too much to say that this makes it unique among GAA autobiographies, but it is certainly refreshing to read pages where a modern player is willing to talk about men he played against — and men he played with.

But the book is absolutely not the production ‘an old hurler’ getting stuff off his chest to settle old scores.

Instead, he offers opinions which are relevant to the 2020 hurling championship.

The fact that he is so recently retired from the inter-county game and still playing at club level lends a depth and credibility to what he has to say.

So, too, does the tone in which it is said: it is a measured, unshowy, unsentimental setting out of a viewpoint that is clear and concise.

Here is a taste of just a few of the issues that are addressed in the middle of the book:

Waterford

Larkin considers what he calls “another disastrous showing” by Waterford in the 2019 championship.

He fairly points out that they have the core of a young team and that should mean they will be able to bounce back.

And part of that bouncing back will require finding a settled position for Austin Gleeson: “The games have largely passed him by.

"When we played Mount Sion a few weeks back one of their lads said that they were planning on picking him at midfield and just leaving him there. Waterford could do worse.”

Galway

He talks about going to see Kilkenny play Galway in the Leinster championship round-robin games in Nowlan Park in the summer of 2019.

He notes that the Galway victory would really have hurt Brian Cody — not least because it was the first time that it had been seven decades since Kilkenny had lost a championship match at their home ground.

But despite Galway winning, Larkin records that he disagrees with the assumption that it was a victory thatsuggested Galway were “back on track”.

By contrast, he says he "wasn’t convinced by them. They were still only hurling in patches. It says a lot that they were hanging on to win that game by a point.”

Larkin conceded that Galway were missing Joe Canning, but noted they were still fielding 15 players.

He continues: “I would question just how good this Galway team has been because when they won their All-Ireland it was against a Waterford team that hadn’t done a huge amount before that and have done nothing since.”

And when Dublin knocked Galway out of the championship, he said it was not what he expected, but neither did it shock him.

Limerick

Through the summer of 2019, Eoin Larkin was convinced Limerick would win the All-Ireland.

He said he could only be “hugely impressed” with them, despite the games that they had lost: “I don’t see them being stopped.”

Indeed, he thinks they are so good that, pointing out that their average age was younger than that of Kilkenny when they won the All-Ireland in 2006, they could dominate: “They could do four in a row themselves if that team stays together. They have youth, power, and pace in abundance, while they can score from all over the field.”

But when Limerick cracked under incessant Kilkenny pressure in the All-Ireland semi-final, he was humble enough to admit he couldn’t have seen it happen, while being generous enough to accept that Limerick were unlucky.

So highly does he rate Limerick — of whom, he says: “Being truthful, Limerick were a bit off. Brian always told us, ‘If you’re off a fraction, you’re gone’, and so it proved for them.” — that he is moved to deem the result as “Brian Cody’s single greatest victory as Kilkenny manager”.

Cork

And as for Cork?

Larkin writes: “Cork have some superb hurlers, and Patrick Horgan underlined yet again that he’s an absolute class act, but there’s a flakiness to them which manifested again.

"They’re missing a certain type of player. You look at the last team they had that waswinning All-Irelands.

"Lovely hurlers on that too but you also had someone like Niall McCarthy at centre-forward, exactly what they’re missing right now. They lack players that would spook you.”

Kilkenny

Throughout the book there are interesting observations about men he played with — Richie Power and TJ Reid, for example — and it isn’t a ‘what an honour it was to play with him’ type assessment.

What is most interesting, in terms of the 2020 season, is his perception of where Kilkenny stand in the wake of losing an All-Ireland final.

Earlier in the 2019 season, he had made it clear that he did not rate the new Kilkenny team.

This was not mere nostalgia, rather it was rooted in an understanding of the virtues that make teams successful.

After Kilkenny lost to Wexford in the Leinster final, he wrote that it “didn’t look like a Brian Cody team yesterday. I would say there are a number of players starting that aren’t Brian Cody players. Six, maybe more.”

But the team evolved a bit in the run to the All-Ireland final and the work-rate that brought success against Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final was heightened, again, in the victory over Limerick in the semi-final.

It was enough to draw a reappraisal thatsuggests he believes Kilkenny now have found a new team and that team will progress: “I couldn’t see where the next All-Ireland was coming from not so long ago, Now I can.”

Paul Rouse is professor of history at University College Dublin

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