February 28, 2001
The youngest Fan
When, in 1998, Michael Donnellan became the third generation member of his family to win an All-Ireland SFC medal, the achievement was hailed as being quite remarkable and rightly so.
His grandfather Michael and his father John had shown the way although Michael's medal was won as a substitute. John was a member of the great Galway three-in-a-row team of the mid 1960's and was the winning captain in 1964. Michael (senior) was captain of the losing Galway team in 1933 but won his medal as a panel member in the following year.
Last September, Philip Larkin completed the remarkable treble for his family when he was corner-back on the Kilkenny team that defeated Offaly in the All-Ireland hurling final. If the quest for All-Ireland medals is viewed as a type of relay race, then Michael Donnellan has a lot of ground to make up if the Donnellans are to outdo the Larkins. The Kilkennymen got away to a great start in the 1930's with Paddy winning four medals while his son Phil 'Fan' added another five in the 1960's and '70's.
In doing so, he showed amazing resilience and the fact that he won his fifth medal in 1979 at the age of 37 bears testimony to his remarkable reserves of perseverance.
Fan Larkin (extreme left, back row) on the Kilkenny All-Ireland winning team of 1979. His son Philly (inset) was the third generation of the family to claim senior honours
Throughout the course of his lengthy career, 'Fan' Larkin established a tremendous reputation as a defender of the highest quality ... fearless and extremely difficult to beat. Pundits often referred to his lack of height as being a serious disadvantage but if anybody ever proved the veracity of the adage 'there's good goods in small parcels', then it was 'Fan'.
Eddie Keher once said of him that he was 'inch for inch and pound for pound, he was the best corner back I have ever seen or encountered."
Phil was brought up in the 'Village' area of Kilkenny city ... base of the famous James Stephens club. Then, as now, Kilkenny were top cats in Leinster Minor hurling and he was corner back on the team that was beaten by Tipperary in the 1959 All-Ireland final. Phil always knew that he had a reputation to live up to ... his father Paddy had played in seven All-Ireland finals in the 1930's, finishing on the losing side on four occasions including as captain in 1936. He was also captain when Leinster won the Railway Cup in 1936, the third of his inter-provincial successes. His brother Mick was a substitute on the victorious Kilkenny team in 1935.
It was little wonder then, that Phil's progress was the focus of much attention in and around the 'Village'.
His pride at playing in the '59 Minor final was lessened somewhat, not only by the defeat, but also by the fact that he was forced to retire with an injury.
He made his senior debut in the Autumn of 1962 against Tipperary and was on the team that won the Leinster Championship for the first time in four years in 1963. His first All-Ireland Senior final was against neighbours Waterford, an occasion on which the black and ambers were all geared up to avenge the defeat at the hands of the Decies in 1959. Phil's immediate opponent was none other than Philly Grimes but it was the Kilkennyman who collected his first senior medal as the Cats triumphed on a 4-17 to 6-8 scoreline. The future looked bright for the wearer of the county's No. 2 jersey.
Twelve months later, Kilkenny were back in the final but lost their title to a Tipperary team that was winning the third of it's four titles in a five year period. Phil was in the left corner of defence where his direct opponent was Donie Nealon.
Kilkenny lost their Leinster crown in 1965 and when they appeared in the 1966 final, Phil was no longer in favour with the selectors. Was it on account of loss of form, injury problems or the degree of parochialism that was then quite rampant on county selection committees?
Kilkenny lost to Cork in the '66 final and when they won in 1967 and '69, Jim Treacy and Ted Carroll were the first choice corner backs. The career graph of 'Fan' Larkin appeared to be on a distinct downward curve.
But the Larkins are nothing if not battlers and the James Stephens stalwart was back in the No.2 jersey for the 1971 All-Ireland final against Tipperary when Babs Keating was his immediate opponent. Tipperary came out on top but Kilkenny stuck with it and, with 'Fan' again at corner back, they beat Cork in a memorable final in 1972.
Cork had been champions in 1970 and they were now spearheaded by a magnificent full-forward line of Charlie McCarthy, Ray Cummins and Seanie O'Leary. They went into the game as favourites. 'Fan' Larkin was the subject of much speculation prior to the game having missed out on some vital preparations because of a leg injury. He had been one of the stars of the great Leinster final replay win over Wexford and the outcome of his duel with O'Leary was seen as a key factor in deciding the destination of the McCarthy Cup. The Kilkennyman even missed the team photograph before the game.
The first half was evenly contested with Cork's goal-scoring ability just about giving them the edge at 2-8 to 0-12. Seven of Kilkenny's points had come from placed balls and the consensus was that the Rebels would justify pre-match favouritism.
For 'Fan' Larkin, the game was about to come to a premature end. As Cork fired in their third goal early in the second half, the corner-back sustained an injury which forced him to limp towards the dug-out.
Cork soon went five points clear and even an Eddie Keher goal from a free was quickly wiped out with goals from Ray Cummins and Seanie O'Leary putting the Corkmen firmly in the driving seat. Then came Kilkenny's magnificent comeback, inspired by Pat Henderson, Eddie Keher and Frank Cummins whose superb goal brought the teams level. It was all Kilkenny in the closing stages as they eventually won by 3-24 to 5-11.
It was 'Fan' Larkin's second All-Ireland medal coming all of nine years after the first but the fact that he played no part in his team's massive revival took away slightly from the sheer joy of the occasion.
Such was the majestic nature of Kilkenny's display that hey were made favourites to retain the title in 1973 but they were badly hit by injuries in the run-up to the final against Limerick and succumbed to the Shannonsiders in the pouring rain. 'Fan' was at corner-back where he came up against Joe McKenna.
The promise of '72 was subsequently fulfilled in 1974 and 1975 when the Liam McCarthy Cup was regained and retained at the expense of Limerick and Galway respectively with the man from the 'Village' further enhancing his reputation when picking up his third and fourth All-Ireland medals.
The 1975 final against Galway saw 'Fan' produce what many believe to have been his best ever display in the county jersey. The 'Irish Independent' report read ... 'Larkin rendered danger forward Padraig Fahy almost as inconspicuous as if he were at home in Carnmore.'
By this stage he was moving into the veteran category but his sharp eye and ability to read the play were tremendous assets.
It was also in 1975 that he won the second of his county SHC medals with James Stephens ... (the first was in 1969), thus leading to a marvellous All-Ireland Club success at the expense of Cork champions Blackrock. It was the first occasion on which a Kilkenny club won the championship and 'Fan' was the 'Village's' captain and full-back. He was marking Ray Cummins in the final and despite the Corkman's huge height advantage, 'Fan' played a captain's role.
And he was captain again when Kilkenny added the National League title to the All-Ireland by beating Clare by five goals in the replayed final.
Although Kilkenny lost their Leinster and All-Ireland titles when going under to Wexford in 1976, 'Fan' picked up his third All-Star Award ... his first and second were in 1973 and '74.
Wexford came out on top again in 1977 but Kilkenny gained revenge in 1978 with 'Fan' winning his eighth provincial medal. Unfortunately, Cork completed a three-in-a-row, winning the final by 1-15 to 2-8 despite the steadfast defending of Larkin was lined out at full-back and whose performances were good enough to earn him his fourth All-Star.
And so to 1979 and 'Fan's fifth All-Ireland medal, one more than his father Paddy. The team struggled in the Leinster campaign against both Dublin and Wexford, winning both games by four point margins. Galway ended Cork's hopes of a three-in-a-row and faced the Cats on All-Ireland day. But they were unable to take advantage of ample possession and Kilkenny ran out winners on a 2-12 to 1-8 scoreline. 'Fan' Larkin had a brilliant game at corner back where he kept Noel Lane in check. He was 38 years of age.
It was his last big occasion at Croke Park but he continued to hurl with James Stephens and won his fourth SHC medal in 1981. The 'Village' went on to win the All-Ireland title for the second time by beating Mount Sion in a memorable final in Thurles in May 1982. 'Fan' was 41 years of age!
His collection of major medals reads as follows ... five All-Ireland SHC, nine Leinster SHC, one Leinster MHC, two All-Ireland and Leinster Club, one NHL (captain), six Railway Cups (he was the winning captain in 1979), four All-Star awards and four county SHC.
His father was an outstanding hurler and his son is young enough to add to the All-Ireland medal that he won in September last but there's little doubt that the 'middle' Larkin was one of Kilkenny's greatest ever defenders. He was recently honoured with his county's Hall of Fame Award having previously been named as corner back on the black and amber 'Team of the Century' and rarely can the accolades have been so richly deserved.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
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