Jackie Tyrrell: 'You are always trying to stay one step ahead'
Kilkenny stalwart Jackie Tyrrell works hard to maintain his high standards
When Kilkenny played Tipperary in the League final last month, the All-Ireland champions didn't have it all their own way. At the break Kilkenny were just two points ahead, and without their iconic manager Brian Cody on hand to deliver his usual half-time speech, the onus fell on the leaders in the team to take the reins.
"It was a bit different at half-time," explains Jackie Tyrrell. "The emphasis was put on the players. We are lucky in Kilkenny, we have a lot of leaders and Brian had structures put in place for us, it was up to the players to drive the thing forward. There is a lot of experience in our dressing room, All-Ireland medal winners and captains.
"We have a policy in Kilkenny, whether you are there 15 years or just in the door, if you have something to contribute then you should contribute. We weren't going that bad, we weren't falling asunder, we just needed to work on a few small things and up it a bit more and that was said at half-time and we went out and did the business."
Kilkenny went on to win 2-17 to 0-20 and Cody has returned to the fold.
For the Cats, beating Tipperary has become part and parcel of winning national competitions and on those big days Tyrrell is always one of the first to stand up and be counted.
"I try to see it as just another match but of course it is always great to beat Tipperary. When you are playing in the final and you can hear the fans getting at each other and it really builds it up and gives it an edge. Beating them after a really tough game and seeing the delight in fans' faces and hearing them talk about it afterwards is great. If you don't win, then it can be a long winter."
When teams meet so often rivalries can develop and although much has been made of Tyrrell's relationship with Tipperary star Lar Corbett, he feels it is overstated.
"I don't see a rivalry between me and Lar, I see one between Kilkenny and Tipperary. I could be on any Tipperary player in any given game. I don't see them as an individual but as the opponent, he's not my man he's the opponent. I don't look at any player like that; we are all GAA players, we have jobs, we play this sport for enjoyment.
"I've been on an All Star trip with Lar, we get on well."
Tyrrell turns 31 in ten days and is working harder than ever to keep in the best shape possible to secure his spot in the starting 15. He manages his lifestyle meticulously; recovery is key.
In the past his attitude was to train as much as possible as quickly as possible; now it's about doing what is best for his body. Kilkenny have an impressive backroom team but from his years of experience the All Star knows when to push and when to hold back.
"I focus a lot more on the recovery side of things; when your body breaks down you need to look after it. I'm a lot more logical now, if I need to take a day off because my body needs it then I do that. Everyone is different, it's important to know what your body can and can't do. I call it myself; if certain things are making you sore then you need to take a break from it; they are not beneficial so there is no point doing them."
His job as a rep for Glanbia means that he racks up 1,200km a week on the road. To counteract the effects of this, Tyrrell works a stretching session into his daily routine. After all, prevention is better than cure.
The Kilkenny backs are brimming with experience and Tyrrell is the lynchpin of the defence. He's been a captain, a stalwart and a leader of the team and there is nowhere he'd rather be than on the pitch in the black and amber jersey.
However, the harsh reality is that his career won't last forever and given the talent that the Cats produce every year, Tyrrell makes sure to keep a close eye on what's coming up through the ranks. "You'd be going around to club games looking at young lads flying, you are always going to be looking over your shoulder.
"I'm pushing on and getting that bit older I'm more conscious than ever. I try keep a step ahead of them, all I can control is how good I am and how fit I am going to be, that's all I can do if that's good enough then it is and if it's not then I'll reassess. In general, the standard of performance is going up, the speed of the game is going up and up and you have to try stay above it. Every year you are trying to find something to do to get ahead."
Being a provincial champion means a lot to the Kilkenny star. Losing to Galway in last year's final stung but they made up for it beating them in the All-Ireland final after a replay.
"Galway were so close last year. On any given day anyone can win but what teams struggle with is getting the consistency week in and week out. You can produce the goods when you need to but to do it every week you need to go a step higher."
Tyrrell's career has been long and fruitful and it's not over yet. He's hungry, determined and focused on doing what his team do best – winning. Offaly beware.