You would like to think that a man who walked away from inter-county hurling on his own terms with nine All Ireland medals in his back pocket would have no regrets.
Certainly, on first glance, that appeared to be the case for Jackie Tyrrell but as the new series of Laochra Gael shows, even the most successful of hurlers have lamentations about their career.
Though he was part of the most successful hurling team of the modern era, the 36-year-old endured major self-doubt in his early career. Suffering losses at minor and U21 level left him with mental stains that were hard to erase. To a teenager attending the prestigious St Kierans College, hurling wasn’t just a hobby or a past-time, it was a vocation, and one he was terrified of failing.
“It was a dream of mine always to play for Kilkenny and when you go to Kieran’s and you start making teams in there, that kind of opens up your eyes, you’re saying, ‘if I’m getting on teams in here, there’s a possibility that I could make the minor team’ and so on and so forth.
“I definitely put way too much pressure on myself. I didn’t believe that it would be possible [to make the minor panel] so I did doubt my ability too much and it probably derailed me for a while in the early part of my career.”
Hindsight is both a blessing and a curse. In one way, those early doubts and fears may have allowed him to appreciate his future success more, he points to the 2003 U21 final defeat of Galway as a particularly memorable moment considering they beat a team who had caused him so much pain at minor grade, but now in retirement, Tyrrell is left with regrets that he took the game so seriously at a very young age.
If he could go back, he would take a much different approach.
“I wouldn’t beat myself up as much. Try and enjoy it a bit more because I don’t really think I enjoyed it as much as I could in the first half of my career. Just take it for what it is, it’s a sport, there to be enjoyed and make friends. I probably got caught up in the whole thing of trying too hard, having bad days and poor performances and just not letting them go.
“Maybe the type of thing I’d be saying to any 17/18/19-year-old that’s trying to play any sport or club or county, whatever, just enjoy it, and that’s easy say and it’s a flimsy statement but be conscious of bad days and just moving on from that and talk to people about it.
“I didn’t talk to anyone, I didn’t talk to my parents, I just bottled it up and said, ‘Oh, there’ll be another day, there’ll be another game’. Talk to people. Talk to your brother, you sister, your friends and say, ‘Look, I’m very down over playing bad’ and by talking about it you realise, sure it is only a sport, it is only a game.”
By the time he walked away from the black and amber jersey in 2016, Tyrrell was at peace with his decision. Now he focuses on his club, James Stephens, and now he is enjoying his hurling more than ever. That transition has only been intensified since the arrival of his son four months ago.
“I’m really enjoying the ability to tog out and train and play and enjoy it and walk away. If we lost a game I’ll be disappointed but I won’t be absolutely heartbroken or beating myself up like before. I think that’s a really good place to be and I’m happy with that.
“It comes from the process of having bad days and coming out the other side. I think since I had the little boy, Freddie, I have seen the other side of life. I can’t wait for the first club game to bring him along and I saw that there is another side to it and I’m not as hard on myself as I was and I’m really enjoying my hurling.”
The acclaimed Laochra Gael returns for a 17th series and this season begins with the story of Kilkenny’s Jackie Tyrrell, which airs tonight at 9.30pm on TG4.