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Coping as an All-Ireland sub, club football role, playing with Kilkenny greats

The nine-time All-Ireland senior winner is entering a new chapter in his career.

Littlewoods Ireland unveiled as a new top tier partner of the GAA and the Camogie Association Jackie Tyrrell at yesterday's launch of Littlewoods Ireland's partnership with the GAA and Camogie Association. Source: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

JACKIE TYRRELL’S LAST day out with Kilkenny was in a familar setting but with an unfamiliar outcome.

He’d grown accustomed to marquee days in Croke Park, typically embracing that winning feeling after a thunderous battle in his corner-back slot.

But on 4 September, Kilkenny were ripped apart by Tipperary’s attack and suffered a sound beating. The pain of that All-Ireland final loss was made all the more acute with Tyrrell never sprung from the bench to aid their defensive effort.

“It was very disappointing,” admits Tyrrell.

“You could see lads were in trouble. You could see our team were struggling and it was disappointing but it’s not about me. Brian Cody is well qualified to make a decision as he feels.

A dejected Jackie Tyrrell Jackie Tyrrell after September's All-Ireland final loss Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“I can’t remember the minute but myself and Rob Lennon were called to go down and warm up. We were actually warming up when Kevin Kelly got the goal because we were right in front of it.

“Two or three minutes after the goal, I said to Rob ‘better take it easy’ because I could see by the body language we weren’t coming on.

“I thought we might be coming on at some stage but I said to Rob, ‘I’m going back up to the stand,’ and I never left my seat again.”

Just over two months later, Tyrrell called time with Kilkenny with that game in Croke Park proving the last act in a trophy-laden career.

His last championship appearance was in the 2015 Leinster final with injuries providing roadblocks thereafter. Tyrrell may not have departed in a blaze of glory but he’s not nursing regrets on that front either.

“I wouldn’t even individualise it like that. Last year would probably make me appreciate all the other years more often.

“At times it was frustrating when you’re not playing. That’s just par for the course. It’s not about me, it’s about the team and if you don’t have that mentality, you’ll not be successful.

“Absolutely you’re frustrated but it’s just about parking it then and moving on. JJ (Delaney) is the ultimate ending, ride off into the sunset with an All-Ireland, an All-Star and that hook he made on Seamus Callanan.

“But I went back and I said, ‘am I comfortable with every scenario?’. That being the top end and the other not making the 30. I said to myself that actually I am.

“I was comfortable with that decision. When you’re comfortable with that you can deal with it if you don’t play or you don’t win an All-Ireland.”

Still the moment when he pulled the plug, did see a wave of emotion engulf him.

“The day I retired was very, very emotional. I didn’t think I’d be that emotional at all.

“Obviously your teammates might make contact and lads you played against or people like you’d meet in Kilkenny, they’d come up shaking your hand.

“It was a lovely day. I really enjoyed it.”

There was praise as well from his Kilkenny leader and James Stephens club mate, when Tyrrell informed Brian Cody to scratch him off any list planning ahead to 2017.

Jackie Tyrrell and Brian Cody celebrate at the final whistle Jackie Tyrrell and Brian Cody celebrate at the final whistle of the 2014 All-Ireland final replay. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“(It was) pretty short, matter of fact. He said some nice things about me, and we spoke briefly about our time, the journey.

“And I thanked him for giving me the opportunity. I said, Brian, in fairness, you put your head on the block for me. I came in off not a great underage career.

“It was just reflective of me and what he felt I brought (to) the setup. And you had to listen, because they don’t come very often.”

Nine times Tyrrell clambered up the steps of the Hogan Stand to savour September success with Kilkenny. One of those occasions stands clear of the pack.

“2014, the All-Ireland replay against Tipperary was an amazing, amazing day. That was definitely my best 70 minutes in a Kilkenny jersey.

“Obviously we hadn’t had the best day as a set of backs the previous one and I remember marking Bubbles O’Dwyer that day and after 45 seconds I blocked him down in the middle of the field and Paul Murphy came up and blocked Lar.

“That was just the tempo for the day and we brought it for 70 minutes. It was just a hugely satisfying day for us.”

Life after Kilkenny will provide a different narrative. The absence of inter-county demands allows him more time for work and family, while he wouldn’t rule out entering the world of punditry.

He’s already been signed up for a new role with James Stephens as a football selector.

“To go from an All-Ireland with being a football selector with your club team, it’s going from the top to the bottom pretty quickly,” laughs Tyrrell.

“A good friend of mine is the manager. He rang me up and said it to me and I was laughing.

“He said, ‘look, all you have to do is there’s three selectors, we’re going to break up into groups of three and get the lads out to the matches’.

“That’s it, I said, ‘I can do that!’”

He feels life without Kilkenny will hit home most once the 2017 season dawns. But the satisfaction of playing on a truly legendary team will never leave him.

“I can definitely say I played with some of the greatest hurlers ever. Were we the greatest hurling team ever?

“I haven’t seen a whole lot of history but I would say we’re up there anyway. It’s hard to know.

“I would feel we were part of something hugely special and unique that I don’t think will ever be replicated again, not on a hurling field.

“I’d say it was hugely skilful, hungry and ambitious guys that would do anything to win at that one time and sprinkle in some of the greatest hurlers you’ll ever see in Tommy Walsh, JJ and Henry.

“And guys that when they won one they wanted more.

“I think when you win an All-Ireland it’s natural to become soft and not as hungry but we had a burning desire in us every year to be the best.

“There wasn’t a motto or anything but if we didn’t win an All-Ireland it was a waste of a year, no matter what you did personally or if you won a league or a Leinster.

“I’ve never witnessed a raw hunger (like that) within a group of lads.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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