From Portlaoise to Carlton and back again, Zach Tuohy making his mark home and away
The only Aussie Rules player in the Ireland squad still has ties that bind him to his home town
Zach Tuohy of the Carlton Blues is tackled by Joel Selwood of the Geelong Cats during their AFL match at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. Photograph: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
On Portlaoise’s Main Street, the Aussie Rules player sticks out like Uluru against the landscape. The beard is all scrag, levelling out a good inch under the point of his chin. The full-arm tattoo peeks out from under his left sleeve. Even in baggy clothes, the broad frame says think again, pal.
Zach Tuohy left here four years ago, more or less to the day in fact. The Town won their third Laois county title on the spin that October and tidied up the first round of the Leinster Club a week later. Before November arrived, Tuohy was in Melbourne. New country, new sport, new identity.
Four years on, the conversion is just about complete. He signed a new three-year deal with Carlton in June and in the meantime has started out on the road to dual citizenship. He has a kid on the way, due in January, and he’ll be house hunting when he gets back to Australia.
He has his girlfriend Becca home with him, treating her to a first taste of the town where he grew up.
“She’s bored already,” he smiles.
“Hey!” she protests. “No I’m not! It’s nice. I come from a small town too, you know.”
“Well, it has 100,000 people I guess. But still . . .”
Two worlds. One up here, the other down there. A life concerned with the gradual shift from one to the other. If and when there’s next an International Rules series in Ireland, his here will be down and his there will be up. A visitor in his own land.
Tuohy didn’t exactly plan for it to go this way. When he left in 2009, it never occurred to him it might be for good. The pull of home was too strong.
Still is, to some extent. He got back last Saturday and the first order of business was to go down to the club for the team meeting ahead of their county semi-final against Arles-Kilcruise. The next day, he togged out and sat on the bench. When they line up for the county final against Arles Killeen tomorrow week, he’ll do the same.
He won’t play, not with the first Test on Saturday night and the second a week later. But he has in the past – two years ago he came on in the county semi-final and started the final.
And for as long as he’s up to it and for as long as they’ll have him, he plans to keep pitching up in the future.