Tyrrell: 'I would have had a lot of doubts about myself'
On the morning after the All-Ireland hurling final replay last September, Jackie Tyrrell made a quick declaration of intent for 2015. His formidable shoulder would be to the wheel again. No equivocation on that.
More than four months on, five retirements later, a sixth still a possibility and a manager acknowledging a period of transition, that commitment remains as wholesome now as it was in City West that morning.
His rationale is simple.
“I’m thoroughly enjoying my hurling, I’m injury-free, I feel I have a lot more contribute to Kilkenny. Why would I retire?” he asked at Glanbia’s sponsorship launch.
“What’s not to love? If you were getting injuries and not enjoying it, you’d start to think about it, but I mind myself extremely well, I’m very focused and I know what I want to get out of my career.
“I’m not finished. I hadn’t one thing that would suggest that I would even consider retirement.”
He may be 32, potentially the oldest member of Brian Cody’s new squad if Henry Shefflin decides to end his great career, but with Tyrrell there is a sense that he is catching up on what feels is lost time.
He wasn’t always the imperious corner-back with a remarkable awareness for where the ball’s next port of call will be. Not even when he captained Kilkenny to an All-Ireland title in 2006 did he feel he was at the top of the craft.
Physically he felt right; mentally Tyrrell admits he was always exposed to fear and doubt about himself.
It wasn’t until around 2009, coming to the end of Kilkenny’s great four-in-a-row run, that he began to master those doubts.
“I really came into myself and started to become the player I wanted to be,” he explained. “I met someone, started talking to them and that really gave me a lot of confidence.
“Everyone is different. Everyone has doubts and fears, even the most confident and strongest guys out there. The best guys on the planet, Cristiano Ronaldo, Tom Brady, these guys, they have doubts and fears.
“It’s how you manage that and deal with it. From my point of view, it was then (2009) that I banished those doubts and fears and (realised) that Jackie Tyrrell is good enough to play for Kilkenny and be up there with the best.”
He recalled an underage career as “shaky” at best. Galway’s David Forde took him for five points in an All-Ireland minor semi-final, Rory Jacob scored a late goal for Wexford in a Leinster U-21 final a few years later on his account.
Even the year he was captain he lost his place for the All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway and struggled, by his own admission, in the semi-final against Clare.
“I would have had a lot of doubts from then and would have been carrying a lot of baggage. ‘Am I good enough? Should I be even here?’ So, yes, it took three years of winning All-Irelands to finally realise how good I was,” he said.
The “magic” of the jersey is another factor worth considering, he said.
“It does incredible things to guys and inspires you. There are so many examples of that. You’d often see these guys in club hurling and then you see them playing with Kilkenny and go, ‘God, are they the same guys?’
“That’s just bedded in tradition and greatness with the black and amber. When you pull that jersey on you couldn’t but feel a small bit inspired and so lucky to have it on your back.”
He recalled with fondness that passage of play in the replay against Tipperary that resulted in John Power’s game-breaking second-half point to put the Cats four clear at a vital stage. For Tyrrell, it reflected everything about what Kilkenny are and have been as a group.
Two big tackles, two perfect blocks in the middle third from Tyrrell himself and Conor Fogarty before Tyrrell cleared to set the score up on 49 minutes.
“I would say it represents what we are about. It just sent out a signal that no matter what they threw at us, we were going to be able for it.
“It’s one of the stand-out moments in my career. Psychologically it was huge. . . for them, three attempts they had to score and didn’t score whereas the day before, if they had one of them, it would have gone over.
“That was probably the difference, we were able to put the squeeze on it a bit more.”
For Tyrrell the time for reflection on who has retired over the winter is gone.
“Great men and all that but they’re gone. It’s time to put that to bed. There’s no point talking – the lads are gone. They were unbelievable but they’re gone – it’s time to start looking forward and there are opportunities for other lads,” he pointed out.
And when opportunity knocks there is no one better than Cody to harness it.
“It’s one of his strengths. He’s so well able to analyse games, the way the game is going. What he has at his disposal and using that to get the best out of it,” said Tyrrell.
“Even in years when we haven’t won an All-Ireland. . . When Tipp did it in 2010 and Clare in 2013 everyone was like, ‘this is the route you have to go’. He has a great way of looking and going, ‘right, that’s not the Kilkenny way’.”
The quality of Cody’s decision-making, reflected by the recall of Kieran Joyce for the All-Ireland final replay and his conviction that there are always good young hurlers in Kilkenny gives perpetual grounds for optimism.
“I said it last year when people were thinking ‘what are Kilkenny going to do?’ If you were looking last year you wouldn’t have thought Conor Fogarty would be nearly an All Star, Cillian Buckley was an All Star, John Power did what he did in the All-Ireland.
“It’s just there, it’s just to find them, get them up to speed and get them going at a high level.”