Jackie Tyrrell: Tommy Walsh, the nun's bedpost and the night Liam MacCarthy went missing
Galway players have to embrace these next few months but not let it make them soft
Galway manager Micheál Donoghue shows the Liam MacCarthy Cup to the welcoming home crowd in Ballinasloe on Monday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
As Liam MacCarthy heads west, Galway’s players have a great few months ahead of them.
Nothing beats winning All-Irelands. I have yet to see an All-Ireland greeted more emotionally by players, supporters, ex-players and management than this one was – which shows how much they care about playing for Galway, what the team means to the Galway people and the hurt that they have endured.
The week after winning an All-Ireland is a whirlwind and it’s only around now, as the week peters out and the energy levels drop, that a huge sense of pride and relief will descend upon the Galway players.
For me, the true realisation of success began when you saw what the win does to people in the days and weeks after the final whistle. When players say in the immediate aftermath that it hasn’t really sunk in yet, it’s because they haven’t had this experience yet.
The emotion you see as you meet various supporters on the streets, in bars or anywhere. This really means something to them, it is actually tangible. You can reach out and almost touch it. People’s spirits are high, they are loving life, wanting to get up and out and meet people and talk about the game and bask in the glory for a little longer.
These days are when you get the best stories. One year, we took the cup to the St John of God’s nunnery in Kilkenny. A few of us went along and we passed the cup around but one of the nuns there wasn’t one bit happy.
She wanted to know where was Tommy Walsh. We told her that Tommy wasn’t available to come with us that day and she said, ‘Oh, I love Tommy Walsh’. Then she took us in and showed us her bed – complete with a picture of Tommy on the bedpost.
She was infatuated with Tommy and I think she had even got an assurance from Brian Cody that Tommy would be down with the cup. In the end, he had to go down there on his own the following week. She nearly lost her life when she saw him.
That’s what you want. You want this time to be full of craic, full of situations you wouldn’t find yourself in during the first nine months of the year. The odd time, you might find yourself popping into a wedding – maybe a Kilkenny woman is marrying a Tipperary man and someone gets in touch to see would you bring the cup along for an hour. No problem. Delighted to do it.
You have to enjoy it. Every hug, every handshake, every pat on the back. Enjoy it. embrace it. This is sport, after all, and there are going to be more hard days than good days. You need to immerse yourself in this feeling so that it’s something you crave again. You’re going to need motivation when the time comes around in January. Make this your motivation, the desire to get back to it.
The next three months will fly for these Galway players. As Cyril Farrell was saying on Sunday, there will be no winter for them. The weeks will be filled with cup visits to schools, hospitals, birthday parties, weddings and any function that’s going. They should put a GPS tracker on Liam MacCarthy for the next few months and it will challenge any of Jamie Barron’s or David Burke’s numbers.
In early 2015, I took the cup to San Francisco. There was a function on out there and I came over with Liam MacCarthy and Aidan O’Mahony from Kerry brought Sam Maguire. We were having a right good night until suddenly at about one o’clock in the morning, we couldn’t find the cup.
That would sober anybody up. For a half an hour, there were phonecalls going here, there and everywhere. I was panicking, big time. I was imagining the conversations when I got back to Kilkenny. You had one job, Tyrrell. One job. Don’t lose the cup.
In the end, it turned out that a Waterford woman had decided it would be a great idea to bring it to an Irish bar around the corner from where the function was. We found it but I nearly had a heart attack.
This week is one you want to hold onto for as long as possible. When you have some time alone to reflect it seeps in a little more and you want to hold onto that too. You want to be around the guys you’ve shared the journey with. You want to extend it as long as possible before you have to go back to real life.
After the 2011 final, Paddy Hogan had to go back to teaching college in Dublin while we were still tearing the arse out of it down in Kilkenny. He was looking for victims to come to Dublin and have a night out with so myself, Richie Power and a rake of others went up. We walked into Flannery’s and who was standing there only Brian Gavin, the referee.
That was the year that Brian had got the belt across the nose from Tommy Walsh in the final. He had been doing Championship Matters with Marty Morrissey and there he was in the bar after it. My abiding memory of that night is of Brian Gavin at the bar drinking Jager Bombs with the plaster still across his nose.
Players deserve this time. They should never have it in their head not to do something or go somewhere because they’re afraid of what people think. People don’t know the work they have put in or the stuff they’ve had to endure. This is the time to enjoy the spoils of all that work. All Star awards, sponsorship offers, endorsements, medal presentations, holiday plans, fundraisers, individual awards, everything else. Luxuriate in it because it will be gone long enough.
I always liked bringing the cup around schools and nursing homes. In 2006, I was in college in Limerick and I would get home on a Thursday night and check the book for the next day. For weeks and months after the final, there’d be four schools a day to visit on the Friday and you couldn’t get enough of that stuff. It’s no hardship – it’s the opposite.
Same with nursing homes and hospitals. You would be taking the cup to older people, people who mightn’t even talk very much these days. But you’d be able to see a glint in their eye and you’d know that seeing the cup pricked some sort of memory in them and gave them a bit of joy. You spend so much of your time as an intercounty hurler detached from the wider public. The lift you get when you see first-hand what it means to people is massive.
The tricky part, of course, is drawing the line a couple of months from now. Even now, I’d imagine Mícheál Donoghue has a date in mind for Liam MacCarthy to be locked in a cabinet somewhere and for the 2018 season to begin. And it won’t matter how determined he is, there will still be bits and pieces that will leak beyond that date. There’s always a function or two in January, February, even into March. That’s going to happen, no matter what he does.
The danger is always lurking, making you soft. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t occasionally think back to 2017. If you were involved in the Galway hurling panel, it was the greatest year of your life. Why wouldn’t you think of it? But you have to be ruthless about it. You can’t let it impact on your application, your training or your recovery.
There’s a shift of mindset needed for Galway now. Since Sunday, we’ve heard Donoghue and a few others talk about how this will silence the critics, how they won’t be called chokers anymore, all that stuff. Joe Canning said at least now the lack of an All-Ireland medal won’t be used as a stick to beat him with. What that tells you is that this stuff was part of the motivation that drove them to this All-Ireland.
What’s their motivation now? They’re after winning every trophy in 2017 and the year has ended with everyone – absolutely everyone – in agreement that they were the best team in the country. Nobody is calling them chokers, nobody is beating them with any stick.
In fact, it’s the complete opposite. They will spend from now to January and beyond with everyone telling them how great they are. And if outside criticism has hardened you in the past, so much so that it has been part of your motivation for winning the All-Ireland, it’s very hard to guard against outside praise softening you now. You can’t pretend not to notice it.
So they need a new script. From here on out, it has to be: “Right lads, what do we want to be remembered as? Do we want people to think of us as a team who just won one and then vanished?”
They have the perfect example in Tipperary. Look at Tipp; they won in 2010 and thought they were going to take over hurling. Didn’t happen. Came back in 2016 with a very good team, looked like they could go back-to-back. Didn’t happen.
Going back-to-back is so, so hard. Tipp only lost to Galway by a point – there’s really nothing between the pair of them. All Tipp missed out on this year was that little bit of improvement you need. Everyone else gets better – you have to get better as well. You can’t stand still.
Most of all, what the Galway players have to come around to getting into their heads between now and January is this – it’s not okay not to win it next year. Don’t wait for 2019. Don’t kid yourself that you just get through 2018 and maybe make a semi-final or final but really go for it then the following year.
You have no idea what the future holds. You don’t know who will get injured, who will lose form. You don’t know which other team is going to find the missing piece. You don’t know which other group of players is sitting through the winter getting more and more pissed off and hurt by the day – they’ll be gunning for you, dying to have a cut off you when the time comes.
They’re going to be ready. Are you?