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Dublin: 0°C Friday 4 December 2020

'It's like Croke Park when you're playing well' - 'Taggy' on his Dancing With The Stars experience

Cats legend Aidan Fogarty says ‘its the most ‘un-Kilkenny’ thing ever.

Image: Kyran O'Brien

WORD WENT AROUND before Christmas: “The CBE man is dancing. The CBE man is dancing.”

Six years out of Kilkenny colours, Aidan ‘Taggy’ Fogarty remains a recognisable face. His job as a Service Engineer takes him into retail outlets across the southeast. Talk usually revolves around his county’s specialist subject.

“Our biggest customer is Musgrave,” Fogarty reveals. “I’d be well known in all the shops. In Kilkenny, I go into the shop and they talk about hurling more so than what the problem is.”

December was unusually hectic. None would have guessed what had the man from CBE so busy.

“It’s definitely the most un-Kilkenny thing ever,” Fogarty agrees. “It was the most random phone call I ever got. I thought it was a prank call.”

Such episodes were not unknown during his time playing County. Players posing as journalists routinely sought out interviews with teammates. But a request to do reality television?

“Is it Dancing With The Stars in Kilkenny?’ Fogarty wondered.

“No, the RTÉ one,” the fixer replied.

Fogarty is still unsure why the production company called: “They never said why they rang me. They wanted a GAA person. Maybe they were just looking for a hurler.”

Little by way of personality made its way into the public domain under Brian Cody’s watch. But behind the steel façade, Kilkenny hummed with humour.

“All the personalities are coming out now,” says Fogarty. “Tommy Walsh, he’s an absolute pantomime. We knew what kind of character he was. We never really went to the media side of things. We were just concentrating on winning matches and winning All Irelands.”

Kilkenny amassed titles at an exponential rate during Fogarty’s time. He was there for eight All Irelands, winning five on the field between 2003 and 2014. Those medals set him apart, except in his home county.

He cites his debut for the seniors against Dublin in 2004: “The full forward line was DJ Carey, Henry Shefflin and myself. Two of the best hurlers of all time and me. Back then, I was thinking: ‘What am I doing here?’ I was 22 or 23 at the time. It took me two or three years to get into the rhythm of Kilkenny hurling. Because you can sit on the bench and you can be happy out, get your medal or two and be gone.”

diarmuid-osullivan-and-aidan-fogarty Cork's Diarmuid O'Sullivan is chased by Fogarty during the 2006 championship decider. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

2006 dawned, Fogarty yet to make his mark: “I remember Brian dropped eight or nine players off the panel. I got called back. I was injured at the time. He said: ‘Look, you need to step up your game.’ I had to make a statement. It was a mental thing more than a hurling thing.”

Never the prototype — hurler with a golfer’s grip — Fogarty found a way to make it work.

“The reason I was in there was because of my workrate and keeping a level head,” he maintains. “And for a corner forward to be that way inclined, that was the Brian Cody player. I remember in 2005 and 2006, he wanted to play me and sometimes I wasn’t playing great but I was working my socks off. On big occasions, I would have pulled it out of the bag at times.”

None came bigger than All-Ireland final day. Replaced during the semi final win over Clare, Fogarty retained his starting position for the 2006 decider. Cody keeping faith changed everything: the number 15 bagged 1-3, Kilkenny toppled Cork, hurling entered a new realm.

“Everyone was trying to get the story out of the Kilkenny camp about what was going on,” Fogarty reflects. “We were just training away. We knew as well we had the opportunity to win as much as we could. In fairness, beginning of the year, Brian would sit us down and say: ‘I don’t care about your All Stars. I don’t care about your Hurlers of the Year. It’s a clean slate.’ The proof was in the pudding. He got rid of guys. The Charlie Carter thing. Henry Shefflin came to an end. I came to an end. Tommy Walsh came to an end. It’s the process of sport anyway. He made big decisions and big calls. I think that kept us on our toes.”

Even those who prospered in Cody’s environment found it taxing: “It’s a tough place to be. You have to be really thick skinned. It’s such a mental challenge to stay to that level and to keep your confidence up and to keep your hurling up.”

Some players lost their bearings, something Fogarty readily acknowledges: “It can make you or break you. I know guys who were let off the panel and they would have been struggling for a while, mentally. They never would have said anything. Their form would have been off.”

aidan-fogarty-and-shane-mcgrath Shane McGrath of Tipperary attempts to dispossess the Kilkenny forward. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The chosen ones gained more than acclaim.

“It definitely made me as a person,” Fogarty believes. “It gave me a get up and go attitude, take risks, take on a challenge. All those words I wouldn’t have associated with myself when I started out with Kilkenny. I was just going through the motions a lot of the time. It gave me the possibility of being able to do anything.”

This line of thinking has brought him, at 37, into the national consciousness. Nobody expected him to reappear on a dancing stage.

“I know that hurling put me up there on a pedestal,” Fogarty allows. “I’ll never take that for granted.”

Moored still on modest seas, he welcomed this departure: “I don’t get these phone calls every day. I saw it as an opportunity to put myself out there. I had nothing really going on. I wouldn’t be starting back club training until May. I said I’d give it a go. It can’t do any harm if it raises my profile or I get something out of it.”

Recent years entailed recalibration. Hurling’s absence left a void, then he parted ways with his long-term girlfriend.

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“I was consumed by Kilkenny hurling,” Fogarty admits. “My direction in life has changed. Being single, it’s all a bit new to me. I’m up here living with Fr Ray [Kelly] in an apartment. It’s a change for me but I’m well able for it.”

aidan-fogarty-and-goalkeeper-eoin-murphy-take-in-the-atmosphere-after-the-game Fogarty and goalkeeper Eoin Murphy reflect on another victory. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

December’s burden has been eased by January’s move to Dublin. Last month, he began his days at 6am, running through his working schedule in time to make rehearsals. Five hours in studio meant he was on the road for home at 10pm. This hurler never knew such strain.

“It’s so intense,” Fogarty explains. “Training for hurling, you go in, do your hour and a half, go home. Grand. This, it’s an all day thing. Mentally, just thinking of the steps, your posture… It’s just very draining.”

To lighten his load, he requested time off work. CBE obliged, granting him a month’s paid leave. Now he spends his nights in a city apartment.

“You’re rehearsing for eight hours a day,” he relates. “I’m not set in routine. I have no meals prepped. I’ve no shopping done. I’m going to a chipper or a deli. I’m all over the shop. I’m not happy about it because I like keeping myself in shape.”

Not all aspects feel unfamiliar: “I found the crowd fantastic last Sunday. They were all cheering and they were up on their feet. That’s when I really got into it. And it kind of reminded me of Croke Park when you’re playing well. There’s no better feeling. It’s like you’re on cloud nine. Then you’re in the zone and you take off.”

DWTS Week 1 5th Jan 2019_31 Fogarty with pro dancer Emily Barker during the first live show of Dancing with the Stars. Source: Kyran O'Brien

After the show, lots of messages landed. Friends assumed he was on the tear: “Everybody was talking about the glitz and the glam, the celeb life and all this jazz. Here’s me getting a McDonald’s, going back to the apartment and going to bed.”

Shattered, he was only fit for sleep. How far, really, had he travelled from that former life?

“Hard to know what Brian Cody makes of the whole thing,” he ventures. “He’s so guarded. You just never know what he’s actually thinking. He’s always in manager mode. We’d have a bit of craic about it. He’d say: ‘Sure look, you were always the dancer anyway.’ Behind it all, he’d be delighted that I’m getting on.”

On Sunday night, Fogarty steps out again, when the dancers face their first elimination. The winner will be crowned on 22 March.

“I did my dance last Sunday and for that five seconds, the feeling was unbelievable,” he enthuses. “It’s the same kind of a buzz when you’d be in Croke Park coming off it. That’s what I’m doing it for. That buzz and that feeling.”

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