Eight time All-Ireland winner Eoin Larkin told David Hennessy about how Brian Cody saved him from a deep depression that threatened to push him over the edge, Kilkenny’s four-in-a-row and why he doesn’t miss playing anymore
Eoin Larkin has won eight All-Ireland medals and climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand as All-Ireland-winning captain in 2012. Eoin also claimed All-Ireland glory with his club James Stephen’s in 2005. His early years on the Kilkenny team coincided with Brian Cody’s Cats storming to four All-Irelands in a row and he grew to be one of the team’s leaders as they continued to dominate.
But none of his achievements meant anything to him when depression took hold. It was his county manager Brian Cody, a man who has a reputation for ruthlessness, who saw the warning signs and simply asked if everything was okay. When Larkin admitted to Cody that it wasn’t, he also admitted it to himself. By accepting help, he admits he could also have prevented his children from becoming orphans. Larkin has detailed his struggle with his depression as well as his hurling career in his new book, Camouflage.
Eoin told The Irish World: “To be honest, I didn’t put it into the book to help someone else. I put it into the book because if I was going to do it, it would have to be all in. I wasn’t going to pick and choose what I was going to put in.
“It is a huge part of my life and that’s what the book is about, my life and how it went from being a young lad wanting to hurl with Kilkenny right up to achieving all the dreams. Depression is a huge part of that as well so once I decided to do it, that had to go in. I think it probably took two years or two and a half years to really come to terms with where I was at with depression and really truly accept it and be okay with the whole world knowing that.
“I didn’t do it specifically for that reason, to try and help people and be a martyr: ‘I got through it, you can get through it yourself’.
“I wanted to put it out there because it was my story and if that does help people, that’s all the better. I have received a couple of messages since the book launched and people have read it and people can relate to it as well. That’s nice, that you’re after striking a chord.”
Boxer Tyson Fury has opened up about his mental health struggles showing that even tough guys can talk about these issues.
“It is hard to open up and it is hard to talk about these things. We’re men and it’s the Irish culture that you’re absolutely crazy if there’s something wrong with you but that’s not the way. A lot of people suffer and they suffer in silence. I think the big thing for me was that I didn’t accept it or I didn’t realise there was anything wrong. I refused to accept it for a long time. But I think the weight comes off your shoulders when you accept it and if you can accept it then, it becomes easier to talk about and it becomes easier to get help. I think that’s the biggest thing, to recognise you have a problem.”
Eoin Larkin was playing for Brian Cody before he was out of primary school. Cody taught Larkin in 6th class in St Patrick’s in Kilkenny City and made Larkin captain. It would be years later that Cody would add him to the Kilkenny panel after he took James Stephen’s to a Club All-Ireland.
“I think that’s what loads of people around the country want to know: ‘What was the dressing room like between 2006 and 2011?’ They want to know: ‘How did we go about our business? What was Brian Cody like? Is he as hard on people as the media make him out? What way does he go in training?’
“For that period of time, we were largely a closed book. No one really spoke to media and everything within the camp stayed in the camp. No secrets got out or there were never any rumours flying around or anything like that.
“Being a clubmate of mine probably made me that bit closer than the rest of the lads but Brian Cody is a very private man as well. He taught me in 6th class, he was over the senior team in the village (James Stephen’s) when I was growing up. I would have known him quite a bit but I think unless you’re living with Brian Cody, you don’t really know the real Brian Cody. He’s a great man, he’s passionate about hurling and as you saw in the book if you have a problem, he’s right there for you as well. He’s willing to help at any stage he can. He’ll put himself out to do that. That’s just the type of man he is. He just wants to help people. He wants to make Kilkenny better. He feels he’s the right man to do it. He’s still hungry to do it and who can argue with it?”
Eoin writes in his book about Cody saw something wrong from Larkin’s body language and his uncharacteristic temper during a club match while Larkin was still part of the Kilkenny team. When he took the time to call Larkin, it was a small thing that made a big difference. Crying on the phone, Larkin agreed to get help.
Although Cody is known to ruthlessly drop players who are surplus to requirements no matter what they did for him in the past, Eoin reveals in his book that having to relegate Tommy Walsh to the bench in 2014 did make the Kilkenny boss feel bad for one of the greatest players ever under his charge: “Brian asked me, ‘How is he? It’s tough but what can you do?’ He still had that compassion to realise that Tommy would be upset.
“Brian Cody idolised Tommy with the kind of passion and drive he had for hurling, and the heart and will to win. But he had to pick the team on what he thought was the best team and unfortunately for Tom, that didn’t include him that year.
“But Brian still worried that it was hard on Tommy, him not playing. He said, ‘What can you do?’ Then he had the peace of mind to pick up the phone and call me that morning as well knowing that something wasn’t quite right as well. As much as he can be ruthless in the team aspect of it, he’s very conscious of people’s personal feelings as well. That’s just the way he is.”
Eoin walked away from Kilkenny after their 2016 All-Ireland defeat to Tipperary. He works with KCLR radio now and covers big Kilkenny matches with them. Does he miss playing? “I have totally moved on from the training aspect of it and all that kind of stuff. I don’t miss any of that. I am enjoying training with the club and being back with the club but when you’re up at All-Ireland semi-finals and All-Ireland finals, the buzz is still there. You still want to be out in that field but time waits for no man, you have to move on.
“You still would love to be out on the big days but the big days don’t come around without all the training and sacrifice during the year. I’m fully aware of that too and come to accept it.
“I had a great career with Kilkenny. I was happy with my lot and it was time for me to move on and let someone else in there for a crack at it. It took a couple of weeks to decide but once I had my decision made, that was it.”
Larkin’s former Kilkenny team mates Michael Fennelly and Eddie Brennan are managing the inter-county teams of Offaly and Laois. Henry Shefflin is coaching his native Ballyhale Shamrocks as they blaze through the Leinster championship. Does Eoin see one of his former team mates replacing Cody when he retires? “I think it’s a bit of a poisoned chalice to replace Brian whenever he goes. I don’t see him leaving any time soon. Lots of lads could potentially replace Brian but I think that’s a good few years down the line. Brian is still hungry and still wants it as much as ever. Who knows when he retires?”
Eoin wrote in his book that he didn’t see stars like Joe Canning or John Mullane walking into a Brian Cody team although he doesn’t say that either would be unable to force their way into his plans, just that they couldn’t operate as they did with their Galway or Waterford. Who does Eoin think could have walked into one of the great Kilkenny teams from another county? “I think the one lad I did mention in the book was Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh: Probably not the most stylish hurler in the world but certainly very effective. You could see every day he gave his all. I don’t know him that well but by all accounts, he was the same on the training field and that’s really what Brian Cody wants. He wants a lad who wants to improve every day he goes out, he’ll get 100 per cent every day no matter what’s going on. I think he would have been one that would have made it in a Brian Cody team.”
Kilkenny failed to complete a historic five-in-a-row when in 2010 they were beaten in the final by Tipperary: “Watching Dublin do five-in-a-row this year, your thoughts naturally go back to 2010: ‘It could have been us in 2010’ and all that stuff. So many things went wrong for us in 2010. We had a good few injuries and it just wasn’t meant to be but I think as time moves on, you can stand back and reflect and see that four All-Irelands in a row wasn’t a bad achievement either. You would have to take your hat off to the Dubs who were fantastic.”
Kilkenny were denied at the final stage by Tipperary again this year but that decider was ruined as a spectacle as soon as Richie Hogan was shown a red card before half-time: “I don’t know if they would have won it but they certainly would have been very competitive in the second half if they had fifteen men. I still think if they had to keep fifteen on fifteen, they would have been there or thereabouts near the end, it wouldn’t have ended up the margin it ended up at.
“You have to remember as well, Kilkenny are relatively inexperienced. They have a couple of experienced lads but they have a good few inexperienced lads as well. When you’re trying to play against a Tipperary team that’s flying it, you need experienced players or you need fifteen on the field. Unfortunately for Kilkenny in the second half, they didn’t have either.”
Eoin writes in Camouflage about seeing his heartbroken father cry at the sight of seeing James Stephen’s losing a county final but then seeing him cry tears of joy when he saw his son take ‘the village’ to county glory en route to All-Ireland success.
Eoin also reveals he found out late in life he had a half-sister he didn’t know about. He is getting to know her now. Is it perhaps a shame that Kim didn’t get to share in Eoin’s All-Ireland successes? “We have a great relationship and we’re kind of catching up on lost time. It would have been great if she had to be there and share in the success I had and have her at matches and things like that but that wasn’t to be. All we can do is move forward now, have good times together. We’ll see what life holds for us in the future.”
Camouflage by Eoin Larkin is out now on Reach Sport.