Monday 11 November 2019

'How are you feeling this morning?' - The call from Brian Cody that changed Eoin Larkin's life

 

Eoin Larkin: Camouflage - My Story, written with Pat Nolan and published by Reach Sport, is on sale from this Thursday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Eoin Larkin: Camouflage - My Story, written with Pat Nolan and published by Reach Sport, is on sale from this Thursday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

In this exclusive extract from his new autobiography, former Kilkenny hurler Eoin Larkin reveals how he finally faced up to the fact that there had been something wrong with him for a long time.

Of the five games Kilkenny played in the 2016 championship, Brian made just 12 substitutions, less than half of what was available to him, which spoke louder than anything about the dearth of options available to him relative to a few years before as the four-in-a-row team petered out.

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Brian Cody and Eoin Larkin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy
Brian Cody and Eoin Larkin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy

Even when we were winning comfortably coming down the stretch against Dublin and Galway, the bench wasn't emptied, while Michael Fennelly's ruptured Achilles against Waterford was obviously an enforced substitution and certainly wouldn't have been made otherwise with the game on a knife edge.

I was involved in four of those 12 substitutions, either coming or going. Somehow I managed to keep my place for the Leinster final against Galway despite my limp effort against Dublin. If it was a few years earlier and I had played like that, I'd have been looking in at the match the next day, without a doubt. But my performance was just as bad against Galway, probably even worse. I was gone at half-time which at least spared me the walk of shame. Of course, the paranoia kicked in again as thoughts that I was washed up resurfaced, sinking my mood further. They stuck with me throughout the evening until after the post-match meal, when I had a couple of pints to take the edge off me.

The dynamic within the Kilkenny panel had changed for me at that stage. On any team, faces come and go and most of the ones that I was closely associated with were gone by then: Brian Hogan, David Herity, JJ, Taggy, Tommy, Henry. Jackie was still there but he had his own stuff going on that year between shaking off injury and trying to get back in the team. Now, I had no personal issues with anyone in the panel but, outside of Jackie, none of them would have been close friends of mine, per se. There was just a bit of a generation gap, I suppose, with virtually all of those who were there when I first came in now gone.

So the same support network wasn't there for me in 2016. I'm not saying that I would have sought counsel from all or any of those lads if they were still there, that wouldn't be my style, but they would have been looking out for me, I suppose. They would have come and tried to cheer me up after the rough run of form.

Eoin Larkin's book, Camouflage
Eoin Larkin's book, Camouflage

I didn't have that in my last year with Kilkenny. That's not to point the finger at anyone who was involved, it's just how panels naturally evolve and an upshot of that was that I was left somewhat isolated. But, of course, that didn't stop me getting right in the thick of it for the drinking session on Sunday night and Monday which left me in a depressive heap once again on the Tuesday morning after another shorts-fuelled binge.

I didn't go to work at all that week. We had a club match on the Friday evening against Fenians of Johnstown in Castlecomer. I didn't go to training on the Tuesday night and didn't even have the manners to tell Niall Tyrrell, our manager. I just sent a text to Joe Murray, a selector, saying that I wasn't going. It was very bad form on my part. The club have to go without their county players for so much of the year and then when we're expected back ahead of a championship match, I just didn't bother my arse turning up. In fairness, I don't think anyone could have ever reasonably accused me of going through the motions with the club when I came back off county duty, I always did my best for James Stephens, but I was only a shell of a man at that time.

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I turned up for the game that Friday night. I slumped into the dressing room, didn't say boo to anyone, got togged out, sat down and waited, staring into space with my legs crossed until it was time to go out on the field. Usually I'd be one of the talkers in the club dressing room, but I didn't utter a word. I started full-forward. I had zero interest. If the ball came to me, I went and got it, but I wasn't doing anything beyond the bare minimum, if I was even doing that much. I just couldn't wait to get out of there.

Despite all that, I still scored 1-1. The goal was quite a good one, actually. A high ball came in and I caught it as I moved across the goal. It was a tight angle but I whipped it in the net. Then I walked back to my position. There was absolutely no elation on my part whatsoever. If the shot had gone wide or been saved or hit the post, I would have felt exactly the same.

There was one stage in the game when I belatedly decided to chase a Johnstown player in possession. I should have been closer to him to ensure he didn't get the ball in the first place but I was standing well off him. As I gave chase, trying to get a hook in, James Tyrrell came in and I warned him, 'Don't foul him, don't foul him' before he gave away a free. 'Fuck sake James!' I growled. It was right in front of our management team.

'No it's not James, that's you!' roared Niall Tyrrell.

'Ah just fuck off, will ya,' I shot back before walking back up the field.

Again, that's just not my form. Brian Cody was a selector that year and was standing right beside Niall, who was right, of course, but I just didn't want to hear it. We won well in the end and I got out of there as quickly as I could. I drove home and went to bed. Even the lure of a session with the lads didn't appeal. There was no hangover from hell the next morning but it didn't make any odds: I still felt like shit.

At around 11am, the phone rang. Brian Cody. I looked at it for a couple of seconds, pondering whether I should answer or not. Eventually, I did. And it only took the simplest of questions for the emotions that had been dormant for so long to gush from me like a geyser.

'How are you feeling this morning?'

I immediately burst into tears. I wasn't just misty-eyed or a little bit emotional, I was full on bawling my eyes out with Brian Cody on the other end of the phone, to the extent that I was unable to communicate with him for the most part. Brian tried to fill the vacuum.

'Look, there's obviously something bothering you. I could see it in your body language last night. You weren't focused on anything . . . Even though you're feeling like this, you were still able to do that last night,' he said, referring to the goal I scored.

'Is it to do with last week?' he wondered, referencing the Galway game.

I finally managed to blurt something out.

'I don't know, Brian. I really don't know.'

'Look, Tadhg is there, give him a ring. I don't have to know anything about it, it can be between you and him. If you want help from me, there's no problem. If you don't want me to know about it, it can just be between yourself and Tadhg.'

The phone call lasted three or four minutes, maybe. You couldn't really call it a conversation because that requires at least two participants and I was largely unable to engage with him in a coherent manner. Brian was conscious of that so the phone call eventually wound up with me agreeing to give Tadhg a ring.

Brian took it all in his stride. He would have decided to ring me knowing that there was something wrong based on what he had seen the night before and was quite calm throughout the phone call. There is a perception that he's some sort of callous and obdurate individual and while it's true that he has a low patience threshold for bullshit, there is a lot of compassion to the man too. I experienced it that Saturday morning. I was grateful for it. Because that phone call was the moment on which everything turned for me.

Anne had been going in and out of the room until she noticed how upset I was while on the phone. I'm a closed book, I don't show that sort of emotion. Not even to her. So, naturally, she was taken aback. She had been the one person that was telling me for years that I was depressed and I wouldn't listen. But it was only there and then that she would have realised the full extent of it. I was still in ribbons after getting off the phone and was physically unable to ring Tadhg. So she called him for me and we went down to see him together.

Tadhg's a hugely popular figure within the Kilkenny set-up. He'd be more one of the lads than one of the management. So it wasn't like I was going in to a stranger, but it was still difficult. Anne did the talking initially when we got there, taking Tadhg back through the previous few weeks, months and years even. Then he turned to me and asked me a few questions. I was still shaking with the tears as I told him I had been considering suicide.

'Have you anything planned?' he asked

'No, but it's constantly going through my head, when I'm driving the car or if I have a few minutes when I'm daydreaming - that's what comes into my head.'

Tadhg prescribed me a couple of diazepam to take the edge off me as well as antidepressants.

'I'm not saying you can't drink anymore but just cut it out for a couple of weeks,' he said. 'You'd be better off staying away from training and staying out of work. Just concentrate on getting yourself feeling better. If you want to go out and do a bit of exercise, by all means go out and do it and keep yourself busy around the house. Don't be lying in bed all day.'

We went home and my parents called around together later that evening; Anne had been in touch with them. With the diazepam, my eyes were a bit weird.

'You look out of it, what's going on?' my father asked.

'Look, I'm just feeling shit, end of story.'

Even then, I wouldn't just come out with it.

My mother was more diplomatic, but I could see the concern, and a bit of shock, in both of them. They just wanted me to be ok.

'Won't you ring me now if you want anything?' my mother said to me. I think she was almost afraid to leave me in case I did something.

I was zonked out of it due to the medication but I had definitely turned a corner. Unlike when I went to the doctor with Anne a few years previously just to get her off my back, there was buy-in from me this time. Brian's phone call was the catalyst. It helped lift a weight off my shoulders. It allowed me to realise that yes, there is something seriously wrong with me here. And you can only fix a problem once you accept that you have one.

I regret that I didn't have that moment of clarity sooner, that I couldn't just see what was wrong with me when the signs were so blindingly obvious. And, I suppose, if you're bawling down the phone to Brian Cody and you don't realise that there's something up, then I guess you never will.

The other side of it is, I'm thankful that it happened at all because if it hadn't and I had carried on as I had been for another few weeks or months, there's every chance that I would have taken my own life. I'm fortunate that there was that intervention from somewhere.

Prior to that, I didn't communicate with anyone as to how I was feeling and what was going on inside my head. Express my feelings? No way. It's frightening to think that I was going through such despair, yet I had no idea that I was depressed and refused to even entertain the notion that I was until that day, July 9, 2016.

But July 10 was a little bit better. And July 11 was a little bit better again.

Eoin Larkin: Camouflage - My Story, written with Pat Nolan and published by Reach Sport, is on sale from this Thursday. Eoin Larkin will be signing copies of his book in Eason, MacDonagh Junction Shopping Centre, Kilkenny on October 26 at 12.0; in All Books, Lyster Square, Portlaoise on November 2 at 12.0; in Khan's Books, James's St, Kilkenny on November 9 at 12.0; and in the Book Centre, 25 John Robert Square, Waterford, on November 30 at 12.30.

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