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'I didn't actually speak to Brian Cody for the whole six months I was out there'

Eoin Larkin recalls his time away on peace-keeping duty and says it’ll take time for Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly to get back up to speed when they return.

OF ALL BRIAN Cody’s nine league triumphs, this latest success may well rank as his most satisfying.

Brian Cody during the second half Brian Cody during the second half of Kilkenny's league final win in Nowlan Park Source: James Crombie/INPHO

After losing their opening two games to Clare and Cork, the team supposedly in transition reeled off six wins on the trot to take the 20th national title of Cody’s managerial career.

It culminated with a comfortable six-point final defeat of rivals Tipperary in Nowlan Park yesterday.

With a strong spine in place throughout the spring of Eoin Murphy, Padraig Walsh, Cillian Buckley, TJ Reid and Walter Walsh, Cody has fitted talented youngsters around them and they’ve improved as the season has gone on.

Granted, Tipperary were down a few key forwards but Kilkenny have experienced players to come back into the fold too.

The Cats boss remains hopeful that Richie Hogan returns from a back injury in time for the start of the Leinster championship, while Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly may rejoin the squad right before they begin the provincial campaign against Dublin on 13 May.

Murphy and Fennelly have been away on a peace-keeping tour with the Irish Defence Forces in South Lebanon since last October and they’re not expected back until May, with the exact date of their return not yet confirmed.

pjimage (2) Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly are in South Lebanon on a peace-keeping mission

The uncertainty around two key players is not an ideal situation for Kilkenny, who face a heavy schedule of four games in five weeks, with just three teams from Leinster progressing to the All-Ireland series.

When the pair do return, they won’t have long to get up to championship pace.

“It can be difficult,” eight-time All-Ireland winner Eoin Larkin tells The42.

Larkin was also a member of the Defence Forces and served on peace-keeping missions to Syria, Lebanon and Kosovo in the past.

“I think the two lads are young enough that they can get the mind focused again, get back into the handball alley and start doing a bit of touch work,” he says.

“They have the extra advantage that the two of them are out there at the same time. They’ll probably have the hurls and balls out there as well and they can hurl away out there.

“It’s going to take them the bones of a month to get back up to the real championship pace, get sharp and get their touch where they want it. It is difficult to do but it can be done and I’ve no doubt when the lads come back they’ll do everything possible to get back as quick as they can.”

In his final season with Kilkenny in 2016, Larkin missed the entire league campaign after he was deployed to Syria’s Golan Heights for a six-month spell.

Brian Cody and Eoin Larkin celebrates Brian Cody and Eoin Larkin celebrate their All-Ireland victory in 2015 Source: James Crombie/INPHO

He returned to feature in the All-Ireland final that September but admits it was an uphill battle to get up to speed once he rejoined the panel.

“You hadn’t a whole of lot routine as regards ball skills, it was just a puck about now and again. I tried to do as much out there as I could, but the facilities are just not out there for hurling.

“It was just literally hitting a ball against a wall trying to work on your touch as much as you can out there. Then when you get home you get back into it as quick as you can.

“I didn’t actually speak to Brian for the whole six months I was out there. But I was in contact with Mick Dempsey about strength and conditioning, things like that.

“(Brian) knew I was going to be away for the six months. Then when I got back I just got back in contact and tried to work my way back into it.

AIB GAA Club Player of the Year Awards Launch James Stephens’ hurler Eoin Larkin at the launch of the inaugural AIB GAA Club Player Awards. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

“Physically it can be demanding because you can do all the running and all the weights in the world, but when a lad is coming at you at full pelt and he’s hitting you with a hard shoulder, that takes a different type of physical fitness.

“So you have to get used to that fairly rapid as well. It might be that bit easier to do it during the league, but the lads are going to have the added championship pace to deal with when they come back. But I have no doubt they will get there and they will do everything they can to get there as quick as they can.

“Even though they’ll have a lot of fitness work done, they’ll still be fresh coming back. They won’t have had any hurling or slogging in the muck and the wet over there so they’ll be fit coming back in. Hopefully their minds will be very fresh and ready for a good hard summer ahead.”

Paddy Deegan and Willie Connors Paddy Deegan and Willie Connors compete for a high ball in yesterday's league final Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Larkin says he was “thrilled” with Kilkenny’s performance yesterday and reserved special praise for corner-back Paddy Deegan who he says reminds him of another former Cats stalwart.

“If I’m to be totally honest, I would have had serious question marks about him, especially playing at corner-back,” Larkin says of the 22-year-old O’Loughlin Gaels man.

“But after yesterday’s performance when you think back on it, Jackie Tyrrell started out the field as well and shifted into the corner and made it his own for the bones of eight or nine years.

“He has that physical presence as well and Jackie was never the fastest but he was able to read the game. Paddy seems to be that way as well.

“I thought he had a fantastic game yesterday. Bar TJ Reid, I would have given him man of the match. He looked very solid all through, as did all the backs.

“The competition for places will be huge and with the lads coming back it’ll be even tougher. Things are only getting better for Kilkenny and they’re in a good place at the moment. Hopefully they can stay improving.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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