Shackles off for Larkin as Kilkenny return to scene of their dethroning
FOR Eoin Larkin, last year’s All-Ireland final was the anti-climax of all anti-climaxes.
Not just him, but the entire county of Kilkenny spent their late autumn into early winter nurturing an unusually empty feeling.
Their coronation as officially the greatest team of all time was abruptly hacked by Tipperary, but Larkin and his team-mates were forgiven for never having seen it coming.
“When you're winning you never see it ending, just try to keep your head, try to keep winning,” he reflects on the failed Drive For Five.
“It was never going to last forever and unfortunately last year was the way it ended.
“It was a rollercoaster ride. Everyone loves playing sport first of all but you’re in it to win it and you want to win everything.
“We had a good time for the last four or five years and when you’re winning you never see it ending.
“You just try to keep your head and try to keep winning.
“It was never going to last forever and unfortunately last year was the way it ended. It was a huge drop.
“You’re going into an All-Ireland final having not lost a championship game for five years and you’re wondering if you’re ever going to lose. It had to end some time,” he shrugs, “And last year was the year. We’re looking forward to this weekend again and are delighted to be back in another final.”
Strangely for a losing All-Ireland final team, there was no local recrimination. How could the supporters round on a team that have given them so many memorable September Sundays? A group that had gone from August 2005 until September 2010 winning every single championship match.
“That was no consolation to us,” he says. “All we wanted to do was win the 2010 All-Ireland but unfortunately that didn’t happen. We have a chance now to put that right.
“Tipperary were the better team last year, they deserved their win and no one can take that away from them.”
The novelty factor for this Sunday isn’t just confined to the fact that Kilkenny are the challengers and it is some other county who are trying to put back-to-back All-Irelands together.
Such has been Tipp’s continuation of last year’s excellence, much of the analytical focus ahead of Sunday’s rematch is on how Kilkenny will handle the Tipperary attack.
For Dublin, the use of a sweeper was required, yet they still popped up four points short in their semi-final.
Kilkenny, it has been noted, have played with a much more statue-esque defensive alignment this year, supplemented by a natural backdraft from their midfield and half-forward line.
Larkin insists the movement is reactionary rather than pre-meditated.
“It’s just off your own bat; playing a team game you have to help out your team-mates if they’re in trouble,” he says. “Just as you'd expect them to help you out.”
He will also come up against a half-back line who have grown in reputation and stature over the past 12 months to the point where Kilkenny’s half-back unit are no longer unanimously accepted as the game’s best.
“Yeah, they’re very good backs,” he agrees. “In any hurling team forwards are going to take all the plaudits because we’re doing all the scoring but those backs are second to none I suppose. Great defenders, great at driving out with the ball, great in the air – they don’t have a lot of flaws
“It’ll be up to us in the forward line to try and break them down.”
Harking again back to last year, Larkin now realises: “We probably didn’t think so at the time but there was a small bit of pressure on us – that’s not taking anything from Tipperary, they were the better team on the day, and if we hadn't been going for five-in-a-row, they’d have won anyway, they deserved their win.” But he adds: “The pressure is gone now, we can throw off the shackles and give it a right go.”