Stephens hero Larkin set to get Cats armband
Eoin Larkin is set to be the next Kilkenny hurling captain after James Stephens' dramatic county championship success at Nowlan Park last Sunday.
Larkin's scoring tour de force and leadership when county colleague Jackie Tyrrell was sent off four minutes into the second half inspired 'the Village' to their first success in six years.
It has also earned them the Cats captaincy once more, as Kilkenny are one of the few counties who still operate a system that allows the reigning county champions to choose the skipper.
The last time James Stephens had the honour, Larkin was only finding his feet at inter-county level and that prompted the decision to make Tyrrell the captain. He subsequently lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2006.
As multiple champions in Kilkenny in recent years, Ballyhale have ensured that the captaincy has moved around, with Henry Shefflin, 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, Michael Fennelly and TJ Reid all assuming the role on the back of county success.
Larkin's leadership in the face of adversity on Sunday has him primed to get the Cats armband.
His goal out of nothing before half-time instantly closed a three-point gap, and from 12 shots on goal he accumulated a remarkable 1-11.
But it was when a hyped-up Tyrrell was given his marching orders early in the second half that Larkin really showed why he will make a supreme captain in 2012.
Tyrrell subsequently admitted he "lost it" in clashing with county colleague Colin Fennelly, who was sent off on a second yellow card. To most observers, Tyrrell was given a straight red card but the James Stephens club are holding out hope that he may be reported for two yellow cards, even though a second yellow was not apparent.
If the referee's report confirms that it was a straight red card he will then miss the Leinster club quarter-final against Wexford champions Oulart-The Ballagh at Nowlan Park on Sunday.
Larkin admitted that the 'lite touch' preparation under coach Niall Rigney during the week helped Stephens to refocus after the drawn game. They trained for 45 minutes on the Wednesday night between the games and that was sufficient to get them ready again.
"I wasn't disappointed at all after the draw. It was just like winning a semi-final, we knew we were going to have another day at it," he said.
"A couple of lads came up to me and said 'hard luck' after the game last week and I couldn't understand why they were saying that -- we hadn't lost the match. Everyone expected that last week was our day, that we'd put it up to Shamrocks but we wouldn't do it again. The hurt drives you on.
"It wasn't insulting -- Shamrocks have great hurlers all over the field, but we knew we wanted it. It was in the pits of our stomachs that we wanted it and I think that was the difference in the end.
"Everyone stood up and refused to be beaten. We said at half-time that we wouldn't lose to Shamrocks after losing to them twice before, we said there was no way we were coming back to a losing dressing-room.
"The hurt drove us on, when you really need to dig right down to your toes. That was the difference."
Larkin revealed there were a few "nervy moments" after the sending off of Tyrrell but, after losing finals to Shamrocks in 2007 and '08, the iron will to succeed was just overpowering.
"It's not a one-man team. Jackie is a fantastic hurler but every one of the lads, the whole panel, was just magnificent. We had a few nervy moments but we felt as long as we could stop a goal I felt we had enough to win."
Larkin admitted beating Shamrocks in a replay was better than anything he has achieved as a hurler, including his sequence of All-Ireland medals.
"It has to go down as the best win, particularly beating a star-studded Shamrocks team, including the All-Ireland. It has to surpass it. When you win something with your club, it's just extra special.
"It has to go down as one of our best victories -- six years ago we won the All-Ireland but we maybe have five of that team, it's practically a whole new team.
"Shamrocks beat us in two county finals and we went six years without a title, which is a long time without one."