Tyrrell's inter-pro appeal
LEGENDARY Kilkenny defender Jackie Tyrrell accepts that the inter-provincial series is on "death row," but has pleaded passionately for supporters to get behind this weekend's semi-finals.
And he revealed how Leinster hurling boss Joe Dooley motivated his players when they met this week to prepare for tomorrow's semi-final against an all-Galway Connacht selection.
"Joe said you can only put on three jerseys – your club, your county and your province – in your life. It's an honour to play for your county and it's the same for your province," the James Stephens veteran said.
"It's also great to play with lads you'd normally be facing down during the summer," the seven-time All-Ireland winner said.
"Everyone they rang last year turned up, so the players are definitely interested," Tyrrell stressed, pointing out that 13 Kilkenny players have committed to the cause once again.
They include three of the Cats' five current All Stars (TJ Reid and Henry Shefflin are injured) as well as marquee players like Tommy Walsh, Eoin Larkin, the Fennelly brothers and Richie Power.
And given that it will be a first competitive outing for many of them – Kilkenny fielded a development team in the Walsh Cup – and they're pitted against Galway again, tomorrow's game in Tullamore could not be more attractive.
But the inter-pros remain the unloved child of the GAA. Attendances have seriously declined and the series was stopped altogether in 2010-2011.
Many attribute the competition's demise to the rise of the All-Ireland club championships, which now take centre-stage on St Patrick's Day.
The GAA revived the inter-pros last year and have tried to give them a further boost this year with the football final in Croke Park and an added charity-fundraiser dimension.
"They're on death row and it's hard to get your head around the reason why, because it's got the best talent in the country," Tyrrell said.
"But I would be firmly in favour of the inter-provincials, it's a great competition and I love playing in it because you have great hurlers and great games."
A Leinster sales rep with Glanbia, Tyrrell made his league debut in 2004 and will be 31 next June, so he accepts he's in the twilight of his inter-county career, but says he's in no rush to exit.
"It's a golden era and you want as much out of it as you can," he said. "I'm not putting a time on it, you could have an injury next week and be gone; you could get the chop, so you keep going as if it's your last year.
"It's just a great buzz, great to be part of the (Kilkenny) set-up, those days out in Croke Park, you couldn't buy them.
"When the final whistle goes, the few minutes when you're all together on the field, you get the cup, go around the field, back in the dressing-room together, those 15 minutes, you'd train for 10 years for one experience like that.
"All that stuff drives you," he adds. "Even the buzz of going up (to Croke Park) with the lads on a huge day, being up against it, up against some of the best hurlers in the country. They're the days you live for. You want to test yourself against the best. If you have any ambition in yourself at all you'd want to be put on the best hurler out there."
He lists Clare's Tony Griffin – "he gave me an awful time time in the 2006 semi-final, he had it all – speed, strength and a great brain" – as one of his toughest opponents ever and reckons John Mullane will be a big loss this year, not just to Waterford, but to the game.
And as the Cats finally slink out of their slumber for their first appearance of 2013, Tyrrell is conscious that he's now in the vanguard of Kilkenny's leaders, especially with so many injured for their league opener against arch-rivals Galway tomorrow week.
"Noel Hickey (retired) is a big loss for us and there's a big onus on us all to step up with the likes of Henry and Michael Rice gone at present too.
"We all need to be leaders. At the latter end of your career, with your experience, you'd want to look out for (young) guys and try to set the standards for them. That's what the Philly Larkins, Peter Barrys, Martin Comerfords, DJ Careys did for us. It's our duty to show the way to them."