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Dublin: 12 °C Saturday 20 April, 2019

The Beatles, Toto Schillaci and brotherhood: How Cody's ex-Cats are finding their voice

Jackie Tyrrell and Tommy Walsh have been welcome additions to the media landscape.

Tommy Walsh Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“WHAT A DAY we have in store. Waterford, they haven’t won the All-Ireland since 1959. The Beatles wouldn’t be formed for another year. Their first album was called, ‘Please Please Me.’ How many Waterford people will be saying that for the 70 minutes today? Galway haven’t been champions since 1988. The Irish people, including myself and Daithi (Regan) here, we would not know the name of that little Italian striker from Italia ’90, Toto Schillaci, for another two years. How well would Toto play if he was out here today? The atmosphere is electric.”

-Tommy Walsh on Off The Ball before the 2017 All-Ireland hurling final

It was inevitable that once the members of the great Kilkenny four-in-a-row side slipped into retirement, many would resurface in the media.

Henry Shefflin, Eddie Brennan and JJ Delaney returned as straight-talking pundits, but perhaps no ex-Cat has managed a second-coming quite like Tommy Walsh. A tigerish, no-nonsense defender who typified the black and amber spirit, the Tullaroan man has since reinvented himself as an energetic, colourful voice on the airwaves.

Still in his first season as a radio man, Walsh made brilliant references to the legendary Liverpool rock band and 52-year-old Italian striker in the build-up to the 3 September hurling final. It was the sort of lyrical description and passion we used to hear from Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh during his commentary duties.

Indeed, like Walsh’s playing days, he saved his best for All-Ireland final day. At the beginning of their coverage of Galway-Waterford, Newstalk presenter Nathan Murphy began gently ribbing Walsh about his presence at the front row of an S Club 7 gig at Electric Picnic the night before.

“Nathan, these things we speak about off-air aren’t supposed to make their way into the public forum,” Walsh chuckled.

He went on: “But I have to say, if any of the teams here give the exhibition S Club 7 gave last night, we’re in for a good day.”

It’s symptomatic of the closed-door culture of the inter-county game that we only get to know characters like Walsh after they retire.

His rise to prominence on the radio has been one of the highlights of the 2017 GAA year, while Jackie Tyrrell’s revealing autobiography A Warriors’s Code, co-written by Christy O’Connor, is another.


Tyrrell gives far more of himself than he needs to in a searingly honest piece of work. For a nine-time All-Ireland winner who won four All-Stars, it’s striking that one of the central themes in his memoir is his journey from self-doubt, which plagued the earlier part of his playing days.

In a chapter entitled, What’s Going On Inside My Head, Tyrrell lays out how confidence issues threatened to derail his career. Some passages from that chapter, which is set in the 2006 season:

On being named as Kilkenny captain:

“My overriding emotion was fear. ‘What the fuck am I going to do now? How am I going to talk in front of all these lads?’

On captaining Kilkenny to the league title:

“I felt like a fraud. I just about survived. I just about got away without being completely exposed. It was great to captain Kilkenny to a national title but the manner of my performance siphoned a lot of the satisfaction from the experience. It also fed my doubts even more.”

On attending a pre-championship media launch a week later:

“All the other captains were well established, respected inter-county players. I was genuinely wondering if any of them, or the media, actually knew who I was. It was an uncomfortable experience. I felt that I shouldn’t have been there, that I wasn’t entitled to be in those players’ company. 

On being named to start the All-Ireland final at corner-back:

“(It) was a relief but it still didn’t suspend the worry or doubts rampant in my system. I accepted that I was the weakest link. I knew they would go after me. What should have been the greatest experience of my life became a countdown to madness. It was like I was trapped in a psychological torture chamber. And no matter where I turned, I couldn’t escape that overbearing sense of trepidation, that underlying fear hardwired into my system.”

On captaining Kilkenny to the All-Ireland title:

“When the final whistle blew, I was the most relieved man in Croke Park. I was just so glad that I had survived, that I hadn’t been completely exposed. The build-up of stress and worry quickly siphoned the emotion and satisfaction out of the experience. I didn’t really enjoy myself afterwards because I was so emotionally wiped. My body had almost shut down from the relentless stress of the previous three weeks.”

Jackie Tyrrell lift the Liam McCarthy Cup Jackie Tyrrell lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2006 Source: Tom Honan/INPHO

Looking back, Tyrrell credits the turnaround in his mindset to a chance meeting with Brother Damien Brennan in 2009.

Brennan, who Henry Shefflin described in his book as “one of the most deeply intelligent people I’ve ever spoken to” and a “mind guru”, is a former Kilkenny minor boss and senior selector who Tyrrell often went to for physiotherapy during the second-half of his playing career.

But the real work Brennan performed during those sessions was not on Tyrrell’s body, but on his mind. Had Tyrrell not come into contact with Brennan, or played for a powerhouse like Kilkenny, his career may have taken an altogether different path.

“Particularly early on, I had poor minor and U21 days and I never really dealt with that,” he tells The42. ”That filtered on into my senior career. I was always doubting myself and if I had a bad game I’d be very hard and down on myself.

“It took my a while to get rid of them. Winning my first All-Ireland was massive and winning an All-Star. The more I won the more it helped. I met a guy, Br Damien Brennan, who helped me with my confidence and things like that.”


Aside from that, Tyrrell’s memoir lifts the lid on the ruthless nature of Brian Cody’s dressing room, the chaos of the legendary in-house training matches and his intense desire to wear the “sacred cloth” year-after-year.


Eoin Cadogan with Declan O'Sullivan and Paul Galvin Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Paul Galvin, who won four All-Irelands with Kerry, made an interesting observation about the mentality of elite GAA players recently.

“You have to be a bit mad,” he told Richie Sadlier on the excellent The Player’s Chair podcast.

“I think to win All-Irelands you have to have a little bit of a personality disorder. I think it helps at the top level that you might see things a little bit differently to everybody else.”

They went on to have a fascinating exchange about what they missed most about playing sport at a high level.

Sadlier describes watching a Youtube video of an off-the-ball incident between Galvin and Eoin Cadogan in 2010, where team-mates from Kerry and Cork pile in to defend their team-mate.

Sadlier: “I remember going, ‘I miss that.’ I was getting really nostalgic. I miss that thing where you’re on a pitch and you know that everywhere you look, the lads with the same colour shirt as you have your back. If you score a goal, have an injury, are in a fight – they’ll back you up and you’d do the same with them. I really struggled with the loss of that when I finished.”

Galvin: “You’re making me miss it now.”

Sadlier: “Those are the kind of things (you miss)…”

Galvin: “That’s what it was all about for me. That sense of brotherhood, that’s what sport was about for me. I never thought about it actually like that in a long time. Being part of a team, and knowing you’re part of a team, that was the special part of it for me. Playing in an All-Ireland final in a full Croke Park, my obsession on those days was not to let my buddy down. To be there for my team-mates and make sure we got the win out the door.”

If he gets around to reading The Warrior’s Code, Galvin will enjoy a yarn from the final chapter where Tyrrell describes the brotherhood in the Cats dressing room.

PJ Ryan Former Kilkenny goalkeeper PJ Ryan Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Kilkenny were on a team holiday in San Franscisco one year, when a North Kilkenny v South Kilkenny soccer match was arranged for the following evening.

They’d partied late into the night, so only six players turned up to the park for the game.

Not wanting to go back to their hotel empty handed, a match was arranged against a group of Argentinians who were training nearby in the park.

“They looked like a real serious outfit,” writes Tyrrell, “but one of them thought he was Diego Maradona, all flicks and tricks and fancy shit.

“We were all hung over, tired and ratty, when PJ Ryan got fed up with his lad trying to make eejits out of us. PJ halved your man with what looked like a karate kick with the studs up.”

‘Maradona’ peeled himself off the ground went to have a go at the Kilkenny netminder, but soon realised he was picking a fight with the wrong group of men.

Tyrrell concludes: “It wouldn’t have mattered if the whole Argentinian community in San Francisco had come after us – we’d have stood together and took them on.”

That sums it up nicely.



Jackie Tyrrell’s autobiography The Warriors Code with Christy O’Connor is available in all bookstores now.

Source: The42 Podcasts/SoundCloud

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Kevin O'Brien

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