Eoin Larkin is under no illusions as to how tough a challenge Limerick will bring when the sides meet in Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final.
The Cats have only played Limerick twice in the heat of championship battle under Brian Cody, never at this stage of the All-Ireland series.
Having lost the Munster final to Cork, Larkin believes that Limerick will be hungrier than ever to reach the big one on September 7.
“They are fantastic hurlers who have been coming for a while now,” Larkin said of the men from the Treaty County. “They’re two years down the line from when we played them last.
“Those two years will have seen them progress an awful lot. This is going to be a big battle.”
Last year’s Munster champions, Limerick were unlucky to hold onto their crown in 2014. They will also be hungry for revenge against a Kilkenny side who have beaten them on their previous two encounters.
Sunday’s game could also see Larkin lock horns with an old foe in Richie McCarthy. He admitted that the Limerick full-back has marked him closely before.
“I had a battle with him in 2012,” smiled Larkin. “ I don’t think I came out on top in that one!
“But, along with their physicality they are a team of excellent hurlers. They really bring that to their game, so we have to be ready for that.”
Having joined the panel in 2005, the James Stephens man is now one of Kilkenny’s leading figures. His performances in the championship reflect that - in the current campaign Larkin has scored 3-6 so far, all coming from play.
However, he believes that both experience and youth will play a big part in Sunday’s big clash.
“It’s not hard to keep the likes of Tommy (Walsh) and Brian (Hogan) hungry,” he said. “To see them in training you would think that they were gunning for their first All-Ireland medal.
“They drive on everyone, especially the young lads and its a good blend. Both youth and experience are very important for any team.”
Having exited the Leinster championship last year at the hands of Dublin, Kilkenny then went out of the All-Ireland courtesy of Cork.
A number of alterations have been made since then, changes Larkin believes have helped make a difference.
“The management looked at it (the panel) more than in previous years because we lost in 2013,” he said.
“Last year we had a good few injuries, the team had been on the road a long time. We had replays against Galway and Dublin over the last few years, something which didn’t help either.
“In the end, I suppose, a lot of those things just caught up to us really,” he reflected. “We ended up being overtaken by a very good Cork side.”
One of those changes has involved Larkin’s team-mate Richie Hogan. While he had been deployed in the forwards, this year he has been allowed him to showcase his talents in the middle of the park.
“Richie is really after settling into midfield,” said Larkin. “He has put in a huge performance in all the games that we have played so far.
“We’re just hoping that he continues his excellent form against Limerick. He’s been outstanding.”
Larkin also believes that T.J. Reid has become a leader for Kilkenny this year.
“The frees help him show his talent,” he said. “Looking at T.J. in training over the last few years it’s easy to understand why he is becoming a leader out there.”
While some people are talking of Henry Shefflin reaching for a record tenth All-Ireland medal, Eoin Larkin believes that winning Sunday’s game against Limerick is all that the team are focusing on.
“We haven’t heard about it (the hype) at all this year, not as much as last year. Some lads may have probably thought about it, but no one has mentioned it out in the open.
“Certainly Henry has gotten us out of a hole a few times, especially in the drawn All-Ireland final two years ago.
“But the man has nine All-Ireland medals - there’s not too many who have that, or will have that.”