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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 21 March, 2019
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From war-torn Syria to another All-Ireland hurling final - Eoin Larkin's remarkable journey

The Kilkenny star has been reflecting on his tour of duty to the Golan Heights.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

EOIN LARKIN’S EXPERIENCES in the Army have helped to provide him with a fresh perspective on hurling.

His most recent tour of duty took Larkin to Golan Heights, an historically-disputed area where the western two-third of the region are currently occupied by Israel, with the eastern third in Syrian hands.

Larkin’s seen things he wouldn’t want you to see and danger was a constant companion during his time there, before he returned home in April.

“When you go over there and see that kind of stuff you tend to just regard hurling as a sport at the end of the day,” Larkin says.

“You always want to do the best at what you’re doing and that’s hurling for me but it certainly has gone down the pecking order when you see things like that over there.

It was tough to see because when you come back home and see all the lovely things around, you come into Langtons and get lovely grub and things like that, those people over there, they have nothing. They can’t come out of their houses.

“There were very little children around, even the streets and things like that. They were all still in their houses but they are going through turmoil.

“It is not in a good state now compared to what it used to be like. What it is like now – it is in ruins.

“If you go into any housing estate here, look at all the children playing, yet when you go over there, it’s a total different kettle of fish.

“We were patrolling that border (Lebanon and Israel). It was more challenging that my previous tour because when I was in Kosovo (2007), the war had finished.

“They were just rebuilding their lives. Things are still going out there, (but) not as bad as they were.”

Larkin and his fellow officers were confined to their camp and thankfully, a couple of explosions within a 5km radius was about as bad as it got.

Source: RTÉ Sport/YouTube

It was more the effects of conflict on the local people that struck Larkin, and helped him to appreciate the good life that he has at home in Ireland.

When he returned, the 32-year-old’s hurling skills were naturally a bit off, and it’s probably taken him until very recently to get right back up to speed.

Larkin, holder of 8 All-Ireland senior medals, played against Dublin and Galway in the Leinster championship but was dropped for the All-Ireland semi-final clash with Waterford.

He came on that day, however, and played a pivotal role in the second half as the Cats worked their way back into contention.

His reward was a starting place again for the replay and he’s expected to earn one of the 15 precious jerseys for Sunday’s final clash with Tipperary.

“Getting up to the pace of the game took me that bit longer,” Larkin admits.

“I didn’t do a whole lot of hurling out there, maybe just pucking against a wall.

“But there is a big difference pucking against a wall and going out there playing an inter-county game, even training with the lads.

“But things have moved on and hopefully we are getting there, slowly but surely.

“I was home at Christmas for a few weeks in between and obviously I wasn’t doing a whole lot of hurling then, either.

“I was gone for six months, from October to April and I didn’t expect to come back and just walk back into things. I know when I came back I had to work hard, gather a bit of form – it didn’t happen straight away.

I had my mind made up to go (on the tour of duty). I had thought about retiring last year, when I got glandular fever, but as the year went on, I was enjoying things as much as ever. I was never going to retire.

“I just wanted to keep going and do want to keep going for as long as I can.”

This time last year, Larkin was an injury doubt for the final against Galway, having sustained a thumb injury in a training camp. 

“No one wants to be injured going into an All-Ireland final. When I got the x-ray back to say it was broke but there was only a crack in it, I had my mind made up that I wanted to play, I had a chat with Brian that evening and he wanted to know how I felt and I told him I’d be grand. I didn’t train with the lads for the two weeks leading up to it.”

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

But this time, he’s fully fit and raring to go, if naturally somewhat anxious.

Still, the pre-match nerves he’ll experience are different to the apprehension he felt before journeying to the Golan Heights.

“Definitely, I was nervous going over. I was nervous for a couple of months before I went.

“My family were nervous as well, obviously, so that made it that little bit worse but when you get over there you get into a routine and those things settle down and you just get on with your job.

“The internet is there, you have Skype and WhatsApp and FaceTime and all those types of things so it was a lot easier to contact than it was previous. Then you have all the lads over there who are in the same boat so that kind of relaxes you as well.”

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