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Living the dream ...he never actually had


Peter Hanlon

Finding his feet: Carlton's Zack Tuohy.

Finding his feet: Carlton's Zack Tuohy. Photo: Paul Rovere

SOMETIMES, when he's sitting at home or driving to or from the ground — it's even happened during a game, if only for a fleeting moment — Zach Tuohy finds himself checking reality. “It's like, 'This just can't be happening'. Every so often it hits me what I'm doing. It does seem surreal.”

He knows the alternative is a grim one, that his life would be oh-so different if the phone call hadn't come that delivered a dream he'd never actually had. Ireland is doing it hard (“things are not flash at the minute,” he says, head shaking, “terrible”), which only fortifies his considerable resolve to make this mad adventure last.

“If ever there was a doubt in my mind about being out here, it would be wiped away by knowing what I'd be going back to. The far more intellectually gifted than me are struggling for work back home, so I think I'd be in a spot of bother. So I'm just going to try and bleed this for as long as I can.”

Zach Tuohy with his parents Noel and Marie.

Zach Tuohy with his parents Noel and Marie. Photo: Alex Lavelle

Tuohy is selling himself short; he presents as a resourceful young man who would make a go of things no matter what. Gerard Sholly, who made that phone call after spotting him in a losing under-18 Gaelic football semi-final, was taken by a respectfulness and devotion to family and, although he was just 17 at the time, by the sense that he possesses an uncommon strength that runs deeper than the physical.

He has needed it.

Carlton first brought Tuohy to Princes Park for a few weeks in 2008. He returned home to Portlaoise (pronounced Port-leash), and soon after an old school friend took his own life. He stayed for another year, came to Melbourne and learnt his new trade with Northern Bullants in 2010, then flew home again. While he was there, another contemporary who was neighbour, teammate and friend committed suicide.

“I had no idea [he was in a bad place], it was a massive shock,” Tuohy says. “It shook the county, everyone. He was a very good footballer .?.?. it was devastating for everybody involved.”

The two human losses have put everything — not least sporting disappointment — in perspective. “I would much rather never play football again than have to deal with some of the things they've dealt with. It is only football, it is only a job, there's much bigger things in the world.”

The experience has sharpened Tuohy's spiritual self, although he says he's “a bit choosy about what I take out of it”. His mother used to slip a card of St Michael into his pencil case when he was sitting exams, and he likes the notion of an other-worldly being watching over us; his upper left arm was recently tattooed with the image of a guardian angel above the words “Mam” and “Dad”.

Inside that bicep is a verse from 16th century poet Edward Dyer, “My mind to me a kingdom is.” After his second mate's death, Tuohy sought out writing that spoke of mental wellbeing. “I thought it would be nice to have something about being in a good place, a happy place. It's a bit cheesy.”

Before each game, he writes the initials “PM” (for Peter McNulty) on the strapping on each of his wrists. As he lined up for a first-quarter goal in last Friday's rout of Collingwood, Tuohy tapped the letters to ask for his lost mate's help, then coolly hit the target from 50 metres.

“I'm probably a bit of a hypocrite — I love the positive aspects of religion, the idea of a guardian angel looking over people, but some of it I don't necessarily buy into. If I didn't think Peter was helping me I wouldn't put his name on my wrist.”

Whatever his source of succour, it's working.

Even in a game whose tales grow at pace with its borders, Zachary Martin Nathan Tuohy is a hell of a story. It's one thing to be playing good football for the premiership favourite, barely two years after you first played the game. To already be rated a better kick of the ball than three-quarters of your teammates is something else.

Tuohy is the youngest of four children, and none of Naomi, Noel John or Hannah, or their parents Noel and Marie — or any uncles or aunts on either side that he can think of, for that matter — showed any aptitude for sport. Yet it's all he's ever wanted to do.

He played hurling, Gaelic football and soccer, often in multiple age groups concurrently, which could amount to running out in seven or eight different teams over two or three sports at the same time. “All of a sudden your week's gone.”

Soccer was his love (Noel took him to see Liverpool when he was young; “that gives you the fever like”), but while convalescing with a broken foot aged 15, he realised a coveted professional career wasn't going to happen. Fit again, he threw himself into Gaelic footy, a wise move, “because I don't think I'd be here if I'd picked either of the other two”.

In his youth, Portlaoise was a city of around 15,000 known mostly for its maximum security prison, where Noel Tuohy worked as a warder for 30?years. “It's full of terroristy types,” his son says. “That sounds like a fearful term.”

He remembers visiting as a child, thinking a man would do well to find his way out. “Growing up, I probably didn't appreciate just how dangerous what dad was doing was — he was in there with some pretty dodgy people,” he says of a facility that houses the most dangerous incarcerated members of the Irish Republican Army.

Zach was very pro-Irish growing up, without really understanding what that meant in political terms. His father was surrounded by men who had “bombed schools, killed kids, done the most horrendous things you can think of”; it educated him in his land and in life. “I have a reasonable grasp on it now.”

Noel Tuohy recently retired, and is writing his memoirs in a study that used to be Zach's bedroom. “It was good to see they were mourning me leaving — it took him about a week to move in!” But he is looking forward to the end product. “He certainly has some stories to tell.”

A mad sports fan if not a player, father joined son as they threw themselves into all things AFL after the Blues said they would give him a go, but told a salivating Tuohy they would come back for him in a year. Zach “kicked the leather off” the Sherrin that the club left him, while he and Noel studied every list, every player, every skerrick of footage they could find.

Colm Begley also hails from county Laois, and Tuohy'd seen a documentary on Setanta O'hAilpin, so had some grasp of what he was in for. When he spotted Chris Judd on arriving at the club, he felt “like a schoolgirl .?.?. 'Jeez, I can't believe that's him!'?” He soon got over it, taken by his captain's normalcy. “He just became Juddy.”

Core values were quickly implanted. “I knew from day one I didn't like Collingwood, and I really wasn't sure why. I had nothing against them at the time, but I knew I didn't like them.”

For months, he took part in drills thinking, “What am I doing? Where do I go? How do I get the footy?” He was comforted by Heath Scotland, “who's been playing AFL for 36 years”, telling him how much the game has changed. He has made friends he hopes to have forever, even if hearing every second sentence spoken in a bad Irish accent “gets really old really quick”.

If the dynamics puzzled him, football's most fundamental skill never has. Tuohy credits good development coaches who kicked with him for hours, but the foundations were surely innate. “It never felt forced, I just always felt comfortable with the ball in hand.”

At the Bullants, he actively sought the responsibility of taking kick-ins, and now he does so in the seniors; coach Brett Ratten this week rated him among the Blues' 10 best kicks. “It's a great way of getting involved if the ball's not coming to you on the ground, of getting your confidence up, even if it's just a 20-metre dink.”

Restarting play never disconcerts him, even if stumped for options and with 85,000 voices offering advice. “Then I just whack it as long as I can, and it's someone else's problem!”

He is tough as well as strong, a formidable combination. He reckons he had “a full-body cramp” in his first game, adjusting to the jump from Gaelic contests of 60 to 70 minutes duration to two hours of “the most aerobic, toughest ball sport in the world”.

Taking big sister Naomi to lunch in the Yarra Valley last Saturday, he struggled to climb out of the car, but it was a good kind of hurt. “I like that feeling,” he said.

Naomi has since flown home, a place he misses at times. His brother plays music in a couple of bands, and he cherishes being back for Christmas now, when everyone is up and about, excited, having fun. “Winter in an Irish pub is a beautiful thing — a hot whiskey and a pint of Guinness.” If a love of life is something of an Irish stereotype, it's one Tuohy says his family happily does nothing to confound.

He regrets never meeting Jim Stynes, having quickly realised what his countryman had done, the lives he had changed. “He made you proud to be Irish, proud to have the same heritage as him, but it's almost irrelevant where he was from. He was just an incredible person, an incredible story.”

Now 22, with his assurance growing, he wants to add layers to his game. “It's very hard to make it if you're one-dimensional.” His short-term goal is simply to be consistent and bed down a place in a team he knows is going places. But his horizon holds a new nirvana.

“My dream now is to win a premiership with Carlton, that would be very nice.”

HuffPost Australia

AFL 2015

Round 1
Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
CAR 78vs RIC 105 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115vs GCF 89 Stats
SYD 72vs ESS 60 Stats
BRI 74vs COL 86 Stats
WBU 97vs WCE 87 Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78vs GWS 87 Stats
ADE 140vs NTH 63 Stats
FRE 75vs PTA 68 Stats
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123vs GEE 61 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131vs CAR 62 Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66vs WBU 85 Report Stats
GWS 101vs MEL 56 Stats
COL 63vs ADE 90 Report Stats
GCF 76vs STK 104 Stats
PTA 44vs SYD 92 Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60vs FRE 104 Stats
ESS 78vs HAW 76 Stats
NTH 133vs BRI 51 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140vs STK 66 Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84vs ESS 105 Stats
ADE 80vs MEL 55 Stats
SYD 111vs GWS 90 Report Stats
NTH 105vs PTA 113 Stats
BRI 58vs RIC 137 Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127vs WBU 57 Stats
GEE 105vs GCF 96 Stats
WCE 81vs FRE 111 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 51vs MEL 83 Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 81vs CAR 121 Report Report Stats
ESS 49vs COL 69 Report Stats
GWS 119vs GCF 53 Stats
PTA 99vs HAW 91 Stats
FRE 74vs SYD 60 Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 65vs WCE 118 Stats
GEE 67vs NTH 83 Stats
WBU 125vs ADE 68 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 45vs COL 120 Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 76vs GEE 85 Stats
SYD 73vs WBU 77 Stats
GCF 118vs BRI 54 Stats
NTH 70vs HAW 130 Stats
WCE 120vs GWS 33 Stats
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL 50vs FRE 118 Stats
STK 80vs ESS 82 Stats
ADE 91vs PTA 115 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL 59vs GEE 100 Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH 109vs RIC 74 Stats
WBU 87vs STK 94 Stats
GWS 108vs HAW 98 Stats
GCF 78vs ADE 119 Stats
MEL 50vs SYD 88 Stats
FRE 80vs ESS 52 Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 75vs BRI 84 Report Stats
PTA 68vs WCE 78 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 82vs NTH 93 Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE 119vs STK 73 Stats
HAW 155vs MEL 50 Stats
CAR 57vs GWS 135 Stats
SYD 120vs GEE 77 Stats
WCE 135vs GCF 43 Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU 88vs FRE 101 Stats
RIC 105vs COL 100 Report Stats
BRI 102vs PTA 65 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE 140vs CAR 63 Report Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 78vs WCE 131 Report Stats
GWS 108vs ADE 84 Report Stats
GCF 63vs COL 132 Report Stats
HAW 69vs SYD 73 Report Stats
FRE 115vs NTH 42 Report Stats
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 136vs BRI 78 Report Stats
MEL 103vs WBU 64 Report Stats
PTA 43vs RIC 76 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 122vs CAR 62 Report Stats
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW 93vs GCF 40 Report Stats
MEL 54vs PTA 115 Report Stats
WBU 113vs GWS 68 Report Stats
RIC 72vs ESS 59 Report Stats
ADE 57vs FRE 68 Report Stats
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI 86vs STK 108 Report Stats
COL 112vs NTH 95 Report Stats
WCE 120vs GEE 64 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE 70vs RIC 97 Report Stats
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 90vs ADE 99 Report Stats
GCF 41vs SYD 93 Report Stats
ESS 53vs GEE 122 Report Stats
PTA 100vs WBU 62 Report Stats
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS 97vs BRI 67 Report Stats
NTH 85vs WCE 75 Report Stats
STK 69vs HAW 132 Report Stats
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL 85vs COL 110 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA 69vs GEE 92 Report Stats
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF 46vs FRE 53 Report Stats
WCE 96vs ESS 46 Report Stats
NTH 75vs SYD 91 Report Report Stats
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL 119vs GWS 77 Report Stats
STK 85vs MEL 83 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE 85vs HAW 114 Report Stats
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC 70vs WCE 90 Report Stats
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 110vs PTA 106 Report Stats
GWS 61vs NTH 117 Report Stats
WBU 146vs BRI 74 Report Stats
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE 89vs MEL 113 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE 80vs COL 73 Report Stats
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD 77vs RIC 95 Report Stats
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW 114vs ESS 76 Report Stats
BRI 69vs ADE 82 Report Stats
STK 56vs WBU 62 Report Stats
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 103vs GCF 69 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD 94vs PTA 84 Report Stats
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL 91vs HAW 101 Report Stats
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC 78vs GWS 69 Report Stats
GCF 125vs NTH 70 Report Stats
WBU 64vs CAR 53 Report Stats
MEL 60vs WCE 114 Report Stats
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS 52vs STK 162 Stats
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE 84vs BRI 48 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA 66vs COL 63 Report Stats
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC 71vs CAR 41 Report Stats
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS 69vs MEL 60 Report Stats
WBU 95vs GCF 73 Report Stats
NTH 120vs GEE 79 Report Stats
WCE 147vs ADE 91 Report Stats
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS 84vs STK 49 Report Stats
HAW 115vs FRE 43 Report Stats
BRI 49vs SYD 70 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH 93vs ESS 68 Report Stats
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE 72vs WBU 64 Report Stats
GCF 79vs GWS 94 Report Stats
COL 56vs WCE 87 Report Stats
SYD 57vs HAW 146 Report Stats
FRE 95vs CAR 53 Report Stats
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL 60vs BRI 36 Report Stats
PTA 113vs ADE 116 Report Stats
STK 73vs RIC 89 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR 35vs HAW 173 Report Stats
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS 42vs GEE 69 Stats
ADE 125vs GCF 80 Stats
RIC 78vs FRE 82 Stats
ESS 116vs PTA 129 Stats
BRI 38vs NTH 110 Report Stats
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU 104vs COL 86 Report Stats
MEL 46vs STK 83 Report Stats
WCE 103vs SYD 51 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW 53vs RIC 71 Report Stats
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE 113vs BRI 57 Stats
COL 54vs MEL 91 Report Stats
SYD 117vs ADE 65 Report Stats
CAR 54vs NTH 118 Report Stats
GCF 83vs WCE 83 Report Stats
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA 112vs STK 49 Report Stats
ESS 40vs WBU 127 Report Stats
FRE 84vs GWS 63 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE 88vs RIC 52 Report Stats
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL 105vs CAR 87 Report Stats
WBU 128vs PTA 64 Report Stats
BRI 100vs GCF 114 Report Stats
GEE 95vs SYD 63 Report Stats
WCE 74vs HAW 88 Report Stats
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL 92vs NTH 127 Report Stats
GWS 93vs ESS 61 Report Stats
STK 59vs FRE 96 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD 87vs COL 76 Report Stats
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS 59vs ADE 171 Report Stats
NTH 120vs STK 83 Report Stats
PTA 111vs GWS 90 Report Stats
GEE 85vs HAW 121 Report Stats
BRI 131vs CAR 67 Report Stats
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC 138vs GCF 55 Report Stats
WBU 153vs MEL 55 Report Stats
FRE 80vs WCE 104 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW 86vs PTA 108 Report Stats
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL 56vs RIC 147 Report Stats
GWS 44vs SYD 133 Report Stats
GCF 97vs ESS 95 Report Stats
STK 97vs GEE 97 Report Stats
ADE 131vs BRI 44 Report Stats
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH 94vs FRE 83 Report Stats
CAR 78vs MEL 55 Report Stats
WCE 162vs WBU 85 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE 62vs COL 110 Report Stats
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS 132vs CAR 51 Report Stats
HAW 134vs BRI 62 Report Stats
NTH 73vs WBU 96 Report Stats
ESS 47vs RIC 74 Report Stats
GCF 51vs PTA 88 Report Stats
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE 126vs WCE 69 Report Stats
STK 38vs SYD 135 Report Stats
FRE 108vs MEL 54 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
RIC 108vs NTH 67 Report Stats
Sat, 05 SepTimes shown AEST
GEE 119vs ADE 80 Report Stats
BRI 130vs WBU 122 Report Stats
PTA 122vs FRE 53 Report Stats
HAW 113vs CAR 56 Report Stats
SYD 127vs GCF 64 Report Stats
WCE 125vs STK 30 Report Stats
Sun, 06 SepTimes shown AEST
MEL 103vs GWS 77 Report Stats
COL 92vs ESS 95 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 24
Fri, 11 SepTimes shown AEST
WCE 96vs HAW 64 Report Stats
Sat, 12 SepTimes shown AEST
FRE 69vs SYD 60 Report Stats
WBU 102vs ADE 109 Report Stats
Sun, 13 SepTimes shown AEST
RIC 88vs NTH 105 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 25
Fri, 18 SepTimes shown AEST
HAW 135vs ADE 61 Report Stats
Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 51vs NTH 77 Report Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 26
Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
FRE 67vs HAW 94 Report Stats
Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
WCE 80vs NTH 55 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 27
Sat, 03 OctTimes shown AEST
HAW 107vs WCE 61 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 22 17 5 0 118.73 68
West Coast Eagles 22 16 5 1 148.22 66
Hawthorn 22 16 6 0 158.40 64
Sydney Swans 22 16 6 0 127.12 64
Richmond 22 15 7 0 123.09 60
Western Bulldogs 22 14 8 0 115.12 56
Adelaide Crows 21 13 8 0 115.71 54
North Melbourne 22 13 9 0 106.45 52
View all

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