Jackie Tyrrell knows more than most about the pressure that comes with playing in an All-Ireland final.
The James Stephens club man was drafted into an all-conquering Kilkenny set-up following their successful league campaign in 2003. The teak-tough defender bided his time on the Kilkenny bench for three years as they collected another All-Ireland in 2003 before watching on as Cork claimed back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005.
By the time 2006 rolled around, Tyrrell had played his way into the Kilkenny starting fifteen at left corner-back but there was a lot of pressure on his young shoulders. Not only was it his first All-Ireland final and his task was to prevent the likes of Joe Deane, Brian Corcoran and the O’Connor twins from running riot en route to a three-in-a-row, but the 24-year-old Tyrrell was also the Kilkenny captain to compound matters.
“I suppose back then I was relatively new, it was my first year (2003), I didn’t really know much I was only brought on the panel after the league so I was only finding my feet,” Tyrrell told Pundit Arena.
“It was probably more in 2006 when I was captain and it was my first year playing. I was only 24, I was captain of Kilkenny and we were going to play Cork who were going for three-in-a-row. I remember seeing every hour on the clock beside me in the bed the night before.
“Although we were a team in transition at times, there’s always standards in Kilkenny and any time you are in an All-Ireland they expect Liam MacCarthy to be coming down on the train on Monday. Lucky enough we got over the line that day and as captain, it was hugely, hugely, hugely satisfying and it is something that I look back on with fond memories.
“We were going for three-in-a-row and they stopped us in 2004 so there was a lot of pressure. There was huge pressure on us internally from a county perspective but also from the players. We expect high standards of ourselves in Kilkenny so we always put pressure on ourselves and that was the kind of thing that we revelled in when push came to shove.
“When it came to crunch time we were able to perform in those time periods and we did that in 2006 but we got used to that in our internal games. We used to go hammer and tongs at each other and we always said what we experienced in training in Nowlan Park was stuff that we’d experience in Croke Park and we’d be well ready for it and that was kind of the rule we lived and died by.”
Tyrrell would go on to etch his name into Kilkenny folklore following that All-Ireland win, collecting seven more Celtic Crosses before finishing up in 2016.
Like Tyrrell in 2006, there is plenty of inexperience on show this weekend, particularly with the Kilkenny side. Tyrrell’s advice for those young players is simple, just treat it like any other game.
“I suppose Kilkenny have more younger lads. You have Conor Browne, John Donnelly, Huw Lawlor, Adrian Mullen, all kind of in their first full year of playing with Kilkenny and it’s nice to have that sprinkle of youthful exuberance and something different than the year before. I suppose Tipperary have it in Jake Morris and Mark Kehoe off the bench and Jerome Cahill.
“The thing is that these occasions are huge, they are there to be enjoyed and you only enjoy them if you go out and express yourself. Of course, you are going to have nerves but embrace those nerves. Come the big day, there will be a lot of sideshows but ultimately it comes down to 3.30 on Sunday.
“For those 70 minutes, everything you prepare, it is all about that, down to your sleep and everything. Don’t change anything different or think that because it’s All-Ireland week that you have to sleep 14 hours. Just do what you always do, keep your routine, keep yourself right that week, keep your head down and just live your normal life.
“Cha Fitzpatrick used to say to us; ‘Keep ice in your veins and as soon as you are on the field you’re ready to explode’. It was the best advice ever because I always just kept it cool through that and then it was game time and then go out and express yourself and enjoy it and just go for it.
“I feel the Kilkenny lads will and I feel the big occasion of the All-Ireland semi-final and beating Limerick will stand to them and give them huge confidence because there are an awful lot more younger lads starting for Kilkenny than there is with Tipperary.”
Kilkenny are back in an All-Ireland final for the first time since 2015, which is viewed by most as a barren spell for hurling’s aristocrats.
While the former All-Star misses the hustle and bustle of inter-county hurling he is hugely excited by the prospect of yet another Kilkenny/Tipperary final and the added spice that comes with Cody and Sheedy reigniting their rivalry.
Tyrrell is also looking forward to being able to embrace the hype around an All-Ireland final involving Kilkenny, something he has not been able to do since 2003.
“Yeah, yeah really excited. Looking forward to the All-Ireland, there’s nothing like Kilkenny v Tipp and the rivalry and the sideshow that goes with it. It’s just a great rivalry that has delivered some classics down through the years.
“Liam Sheedy coming back into the fray spices things up a small bit with the history he and Brian (Cody) have had so it’s all rolling into a really really tasty affair.
“Of course I miss it, especially when it is All-Ireland final time and Kilkenny are there. I suppose it is a little easier in that I’m gone from the game three years and a lot of the lads I would have played with were gone before me and this is essentially a new Kilkenny team although I still do know the lads there.
“I’ve had my time and I am very lucky to have been part of a great team but it’s great for the first time ever that I can really immerse myself and enjoy the All-Ireland build up as regards to talking about it.
“The ticket frenzy and all the hype that goes with it, you just blocked that out before so you never really got to enjoy that so it is great in that sense and I am fully looking forward to the game. I know I’ve had my time but it’s a different team and different players now. So I’m 100% behind the lads and just hope they can do the business.”