Former Kilkenny hurler Jackie Tyrrell has a long list of sporting accolades under his belt. The Littlewoods Ireland ambassador won 9 All-Ireland titles during his time with Kilkenny, and 4 All Star Awards on top of that.
Despite having retired from the game in 2016, Jackie sat down with us and spoke passionately about his love of hurling and how playing changed his outlook on life. He also told us about the emotional moment when he knew it was time to walk away and hang up his helmet.
Who or what inspires you in your sport?
“I wouldn’t say there is a who really, but probably my Dad. He definitely generated the interest for me, brought me to games and he gave me my first hurl.
“What inspired me though was being the best version of myself. Early in my career at Minor and Under 21 levels I had some poor days and my confidence wasn’t the best. Then when I made it onto the Kilkenny panel I decided that I was just going to be the best version of myself. I was going to prepare both mentally and physically the best ways I could and take it from there.
“I wanted to give my best when I went out onto the training field, or put on a Kilkenny jersey. All I wanted was to do my best and walk away from Kilkenny knowing I did everything within my power to prepare, and that I took my career really seriously, and I got everything out of it that I wanted.
“Since I made that decision I’ve been living to those values; that would definitely be the thing that inspired me.”
What challenges have you faced with hurling?
“Going back to my underage career when I wouldn’t have been the most confident. At the ages of about eighteen or nineteen, my first challenge was breaking onto the Kilkenny team. Then when I was only on the panel three years, at the age of twenty-four I was handed the captains seat of the team, which I wasn’t ready for. I was captaining legends of the game like Henry Shefflin and JJ Delaney, so that was a challenge as well. We had such a competitive environment in Kilkenny that every time you put on the jersey it was a challenge to hold on to it. They were the big challenges for me.
“Also just constantly trying to let go of that doubt and grow more confident as I went on. Overall just enjoying the game, because your career goes by so fast and you just have to try enjoy every moment and embrace all the challenges. We were so blessed with Kilkenny that we had a lot of success that it made what people perceived to be a sacrifice to be worth it all. I never saw it as a sacrifice, it was an honour to play for Kilkenny but they were the big challenges in general. Enjoying it and just not putting so much pressure on myself.”
What sacrifices did you make for your sport?
“Some people call them sacrifices, but to me they were just things that I missed out on in my life. Actually, they were just choices that I made. I knew that playing for Kilkenny I was obviously going to have to let other things go. I missed holidays, I gave up buying tickets for gigs, I missed some of my friends weddings abroad, and of course these were the times when I’d ask myself ‘is it all worth it?’ But then you’d win an All-Ireland and get that special feeling and afterwards- and no offence to my friends- but it was a no brainer!
“My friends and family were very understanding of my time. I missed a lot of important occasions in their lives and that was the choice I made. They’re the same decisions that all GAA players make, no matter what division or level they’re in. However, when you can look back on your career having no real regrets, and knowing it was worth it well then that’s a good place to be.”
How did you know that it was time to retire from the game?
“I had a feeling when I started the year that it was going to be my last, but in 2016 when we were playing Tipperary and our backs were being torn under, I literally was sitting there as a defender and I wasn’t brought on. I just told myself, ‘You know what Jackie, it’s time to walk away.’
“I was conscious of not staying on too long, and I had to go through the process deliberating my decision, but I knew after that day. I remember clearly sitting down in the front row of the dug out with ten minutes to go and I knew I wasn’t coming on, and that said a lot to me. It was great because I didn’t have the internal struggle of ‘will I go back or will I not?’ I knew deep down that my decision was made and I was going to retire.
“It’s a journey but you have to land at a decision. I landed at mine pretty quickly after that day. I remember walking off the field in Croke Park and I knew that it was probably the last time I was going to be there with a Kilkenny jersey on my back.”
How did that moment feel?
“It was quite emotional, but it happens to every player in their career, it’s just part of it. Even though it wasn’t easy, I was so lucky and I had a brilliant career, we were so successful. I got to walk out onto the pitch in Croke Park, and even though we didn’t win the All-Ireland, I had a lot to be thankful for. That’s part of what led me to being much more positive. I could have sat there and been negative and sad, but I flipped it the other way and instead felt that I was so lucky to have played with and against some great players. Some players out there train just as hard as I did, but they never get to see Croke Park, which is so sad. Then here’s me, I’ve played so many times there, and it was only when I walked away from it that I got to see I was one of the lucky ones.
“Now that I’ve retired from Kilkenny and my club James Stephens, I’ve to pay back fourteen years of events! That’s the great part of moving on with life though, I have all those things to look forward to, all the summer holidays and gigs I get to go to now, and having a bit more of a life and being more lenient with myself. It’s great because it helps you evolve, and fit back into society! It’s pay back time for a lot of people.”
Can you describe your style of play in three words?
“I would say edgy, unpredictable and classy! These apply to both on and off the field!”
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