NEW YEAR, NEW challenges for Jackie Tyrrell.
Numbers and legacies? They can wait for now, particularly when there’s a shirt to reclaim.
If Tyrrell and Kilkenny make it all the way to September, and win another All-Ireland senior hurling title, the James Stephens man will collect his tenth medal.
There’s also the prospect of another three-in-a-row looming for the Cats but Tyrrell just wants to get back hurling again.
The latter stages of his 2015 campaign were wiped out by a stress fracture in his foot that saw him sidelined for the All-Ireland semi-final and final.
Shane Prendergast, at 29 years of age, came in and played like a championship veteran, despite the fact that the Waterford semi-final was his full senior debut.
With Paul Murphy and Joey Holden, injury permitting, looking like they will nail down two of the three full-back line positions, it looks like Tyrrell and Prendergast, the new Kilkenny captain, will battle it out for the number 4 shirt.
With so much already achieved, nobody could have begrudged Tyrrell the opportunity to bow out last year.
He considered it, he admits, but since returning to training in the second week of January, he hasn’t missed a session.
“For me it’s about coming back and trying to get into that 26 and back into that team hopefully,” said Tyrrell, speaking at the launch of a new three-year sponsorship deal with Glanbia.
“It is a different challenge really; it’s really the basics and getting back there. I know I have an awful lot of work to do.
“I had a very inactive off-season last year so my fitness levels probably aren’t where they normally would be.
But I’ve been working extremely hard the last while and I think that they’ll come pretty quickly. I’m not looking too far ahead of that.
“Waterford next Sunday and it would be great to get a bit of the game there, be it in the 26 or the 15.”
That tenth medal has crossed his mind, Tyrrell admits, but that’s the end game and the 33-year-old and his Kilkenny teammates have plenty of hurdles to jump before then.
“That (tenth medal) would be great too, but it’s so far away and it’s up there with your three in a rows and Septembers and All-Irelands and that,” he says.
“It would be brilliant, it really would be great, but I didn’t come back for a tenth All-Ireland medal.
“I came back because I think I have something to offer and I don’t want to be sitting at home scratching myself!”
Tyrrell’s last championship appearance was the Leinster final victory over Galway last summer. He was taken off after 50 minutes of a game in which he was uncharacteristically off-colour.
Now, he realises that he faces a challenge to get back into Brian Cody’s starting line-up – but it’s a challenge he’s relishing.
“Yeah absolutely, I definitely am. It’s a place I’ve never found myself in before and I really am relishing it.
“I made up my mind that in 2016 I’m really going to enjoy it whatever way it comes. That’s the way I’m looking at it.”
Despite not featuring against Galway in the All-Ireland final, Tyrrell still played his part with a stirring half-time team talk referenced by teammates after the final whistle.
“It made me realise how lucky I was to play in all those All-Irelands before, and even the ones I’ve lost,” he says.
“It was different alright looking on, but you can take things from it.
I don’t know if I was nervous, I wasn’t a great spectator but I don’t know any hurler or footballer in an All-Ireland final who is a good spectator.
“If you are a good spectator you probably shouldn’t be there, but it was just different; the kind of logistics of it on the day when you are not used to them kind of things.
“Warming up running past Brian and you are hoping he sees you! It’s just those kind of things, its just different.”
In his All-Ireland final diary published here, TJ Reid spoke about how Tyrrell warned that if Kilkenny didn’t up their performance levels in the second half, it would be a Galway man lifting the MacCarthy Cup, and not Joey Holden.
And with eight All-Ireland titles annexed in the last ten seasons, Tyrrell agrees that the Cats almost see the prized silverware as their possession now.
“Yeah, when you’re champions it’s yours and it’s at different functions and different things throughout the year, you obviously grow an affiliation for it and think ‘God we won that last year that’s ours’, and we were here 35 minutes from having that again for another year.
“We would regard that as ours and we’re not giving it away and if we do someone else will be coming up and taking it off on the bus that evening.
It’s more of a mental imagery and I think I told the lads to spend five seconds thinking of the Galway boys going up and jumping up and down and celebrating that and I think that stuck with them.”
Tyrrell describes having the trophy taken away from Kilkenny – most notably in 2010 when Tipperary denied them five-in-a-row – as “horrific.”
It’s horrific, it really is. It’s terrible, it really is. It’s just a bad, bad place to be and you just want to get out of there as soon as possible.
“And I’ll remember that better than probably any of the ones I won which is terrible. It’s terrible to think that but I do. I still remember 2010 and the ones we lost, it’s heartbreaking.
“For me the worst part of 2010 was, there was so many days, September and October, when I’d be driving along in the car maybe of a Wednesday or that.
You’d be going down the motorway and you feel like pulling in and crying for half an hour.
“I remember talking to Tommy (Walsh) about it and he said he used to be like that.
“You just want to play it again and it’s gone, you just can’t wait for the year to start again.”
Tyrrell never did the pull the car in though, he admits.
“No, I didn’t no but you would have that feeling. I’d say if you did actually pull in, you probably wouldn’t cry, you’d just go ‘What the f**k are ya at like?’
You just have that emptiness inside you that’s burning a hole in your soul.”
Under Cody’s watch, success has become almost an annual occurrence for Kilkenny.
Leinster and All-Ireland titles are tucked away and while celebrated for a spell, and rightly so, it’s back down to business again when the time is right.
It’s suggested to Tyrrell that other counties enjoy winning a bit too much, compared to Kilkenny.
That could be the situation and ye’d probably be better to comment on that being from outside Kilkenny but we celebrate as hard as we train and we definitely enjoy ourselves but yeah, I suppose we have that ability to put it aside and it’s a fresh year and a fresh team sheet.
“It’s just set out from leadership and management and filtered down through the team and when guys win their first All-Ireland you see the way the older guys act and behave and you inherit that and it’s just a continuous cycle.
“We would’ve seen it through Peter Barry, DJ Carey and Andy Comerford, the way they would have done it and we would’ve hoped we’ve passed that on. It’s kind of a heritage and tradition thing really, I’d say.
“It’s just the environment that we’re in and that Brian has created and the management team, there’s no ‘I’ and it’s just the team, the thinking moves on and the individuals will change.
“Lads will finish and that’s just the way it is.”
Like Richie Power did recently, a player Tyrrell marked out as the most skilful he’s played with.
“I’d still stand over that, he was so, so skilful,” Tyrrell reiterates.
“Normally when you go out and mark a guy there’d be one facet that he’d be weaker on but Richie had it all – in the air, strong, fast, left, right, throw the ball off and he was so skilful.
“We played them in a club match out in Callan and he scored 1-14 from full-forward and had the ability to do that the whole time.
“He absolutely cleaned us out. He had that ability and was so, so talented, it was sick what he could do.
“I used to love marking him because you knew you were going to get a fair old test off him.
“(He) Could be very lazy at times and then I think sometimes he’d suck you in and then get a ball and run by you and stick it in the back of the net and run out as if to say ‘you’re a f*****g b*****s’.
You’d think this is one of the days when he’s not really bothered and then he could do something like that.”
Power, before his time in many ways, may be gone but the Kilkenny wheel will keep on turning.
And Tyrrell, for as long as he’s around, will make sure that remains the case. First things first though – time to get back in that starting team.
You wouldn’t bet against him, either.
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