Top Cat Tyrrell happy to get shot at history
Jackie Tyrrell sits now and ruminates over the question he thought he'd never be asked.
He's quizzed as to whether winning a record-equalling tenth All-Ireland medal was a motivating factor in his decision to return for another campaign?
As he mulls it over, there's still a small part of him that can't believe he's in this position.
"I don't know if ye ever saw me playing minor but I wasn't that good, and my U-21 days didn't get much better," Tyrrell reflects, as a small grin spreads across his face.
"Back then I would have held the water for Kilkenny. Obviously when you get in with Kilkenny you get a bit more ambitious. You win one, then you win two, and it kind of just snowballs on from there.
"But at 18 or 19, I would have been happy to have number 33 on my back."
A giant of the game now, Tyrrell points to the influence of one man as helping him turn a corner. Perhaps surprisingly, he doesn't reference his clubmate and Cats supremo Brian Cody. He owes his manager a great deal but instead he points to the guiding hand of Br Damien Brennan.
"A few things (changed). Probably confidence and belief. I got working with a guy who put unbelievable faith in me and more or less turned my career around for me.
"At that stage I was just there at corner-back and kind of happy to hold my own. After then I just flourished and really came on and really believed in myself.
"Meeting that man, he really believed in me hugely and I probably wouldn't be where I am today without him.
"I just met him and had a bit of a chat and he started doing work with me, helping me out: hurling-wise, physically, mentally, confidence. Then I just really blossomed and went from strength to strength after that.
"He has no real profile, doesn't really want attention or anything like that. He's just a guy who works away in the background."
The 2006 All-Ireland was a significant campaign in his development. That year he was captain and the burden weighed heavily. But after getting over the line in that year's final, the road ahead opened up.
"I was dropped for the All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway that year and got back in for the semi and wasn't even that great but did enough in the semi-final.
"Winning that final gave me a lot of confidence and that was a turning point in my career. It was dodgy up along then. I was probably lucky enough because JJ Delaney got injured for that final and if he was there I don't know if I would have started. That was a bit of a break."
Tyrrell is 33 now and one of the senior men in the squad. He's already committed to another year in 2016 but there had been a shred of doubt. The foot injury that limited his involvement in the All-Ireland final to an inspirational half-time speech had the potential to be complicated.
"When I knew that I didn't have to have another operation on it, that helped me to make the decision," he said at the launch of the Liberty Insurance GAA Annual Games Development Conference. "Then I thought about what I wanted, do I still enjoy it and get the buzz, so that was a bit of a journey.
"Eventually, I came to the decision that I really wanted to go back."
Tyrrell will go back with the Kilkenny ring-rusty. He's only back running now and won't be given the final 'all clear' until later this month. Still, the work goes on and he hopes to be fit enough to have his hand up for selection by the time their seasonal opener against Offaly in Birr on January 17 rolls around.
"Never as much as this one now!" Tyrrell replied when asked if he usually looked forward to Walsh Cup matches.
"Normally you're coming back and you're half a stone overweight and things like that, still jetlagged and that.
"I haven't played a hurling match since the week after the Leinster final so I'm mad for a game now."
That game will signal the start of his own attempt at history and a tenth All-Ireland medal. Tyrrell disagrees with Babs Keating's recent assertion that the four-in-a-row Kilkenny team were a dozen points better than the current crop. Instead, he thinks the rest have caught up.
"I wouldn't say no one has come up to us. I'd say no one has passed us out but people have definitely come up to us on different occasions you would have seen that. I would say the gap has gotten narrower.
"I don't know if we have come back to the pack. I definitely think the pack have caught up on us a bit but I don't see our standards slipping.
"We are still winning All-Irelands, still winning Hurler of the Year, still dominating All-Star teams, still producing serious hurlers and probably have two of the best forwards in the game in TJ and Richie and quality defenders and midfielders. I don't think we have regressed. I think other teams have caught up."