IT WAS A tired, but very happy Eoin Larkin who emerged from the victorious Village dressing-room. Like the rest of his colleagues, he had given everything he had to help the city side regain the senior hurling crown, writes Trevor Spillane.
“Everyone just refused to be beaten,” he said. “The lads gave everything that was in their bodies – I think that was the difference.
“We said at half-time that we were not going to be beaten,” he added. “We were determined to give everything, and it showed.”
Given the tough game last week it was no surprise that both teams started a little flat, but even when things got tough the Village remained composed.
“It looked like things were going to slip away from us when we were three points down at one stage in the first half, but we got a break when we scored the goal before half-time and a free just after,” he said. “We could have been three down at half-time; suddenly we were a point up. That was a huge boost to us. In the dressing-room we said we would work until our legs wouldn’t work anymore. Everyone, even the lads who didn’t get on, deserve this win as they drove us on. You’re probably sick of hearing it but it’s the panel that deserves the credit.”
Psychologically, to go from three points down to one up at half-time was a massive boost, he agreed.
“It was huge,” he said. “Everyone would have expected us to be three down at half-time because we hadn’t really hurled well in the opening 30 minutes. It was a huge boost to have that lead, especially as we knew we’d have the slight breeze with us in the second half.”
There was a huge air of positivity around the James Stephens camp. Forget about the drawn game was the message drilled into the players, who were told us focus on the good things from their performance.
“We quickly put last week’s game behind us,” said Larkin. “We had a team meeting on Saturday and said we had to move on, to look forward.
“That’s what we have been doing all year, to try and take the positives out of everything and leave the negatives where they are,” he added. “We all took the best points out of the drawn game. We had worked so hard last week that we weren’t about to leave the title behind us – we were going to drag things on.”
The goal was typical of James Stephens overall game. Larkin refused to give up on the ball, worked for possession and the hit the net.
“The sliotar just popped out – luckily enough I was running that way and got it and through, but the credit for the goal has to go to the forwards who kept the ball in there,” he said, deflecting praise on to his colleagues.
“That was the big thing – we might not have had a hope of winning the ball at times but we kept it in there, knowing that we could get a break. I was lucky to be there when we did.”
And they kept that hard work ethic going when reduced to 14 men, never letting their heads drop.
“When you see the calibre of the man who we lost there was no doubt that we were going to raise our game for him,” he said of Tyrrell. “He has carried the Village on his own for years.
“As soon as I saw him going off I said to myself that this game had to be won for Jackie – there was no way he could be left to feel that he had lost the county final for the Village for the next few years. Every player, to a man, stood up after that. There was no way they were going to let Jackie down because he has never let us down.”
And they did that by keeping play moving forward, driving on from the centre.
“We had to win the midfield battle, to keep ourselves driving forward,” he said. “The lads were fantastic there in midfield – to come in at half-time leading the breaking ball count when you’re up against two inter-county midfielders was fantastic. We knew that if we could just break even in the second half that we had a great chance.”
He may not admit it, but it was a Man of the Match performance from Larkin, who helped himself to 1-11. To do that, and win, was beyond his expectations.
“You couldn’t dream about that,” he said. “Philly (Larkin) kindly reminded me in the dressing-room there that I hadn’t scored in the last two county finals we played, so I’m delighted to have been the top scorer. That said, I would have taken not scoring if it meant we would have won.”
Given his scoring record with the Village over the years it’s almost impossible to imagine Larkin suffering another shut-out.
“It was going through my mind during the week, but I said to myself that it wasn’t going to happen again,” he said. “I wasn’t going to take a wrong option, but was determined to have a good game and drive on the lads around me, because they’d been spurring me on all the time. It was a phenomenal team effort.
“We took the right option when it came to getting scores every time out there in the final,” he continued. “I think it’s something we’ve done a lot of this year – maybe we didn’t in 2008 and 2009 (finals they lost against the Shamrocks). We have worked on it a lot, but thankfully it came to the fore.”