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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.”

AFL 2015

Round 1
Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
CAR 78 vs RIC 105 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115 vs GCF 89 Stats
SYD 72 vs ESS 60 Stats
BRI 74 vs COL 86 Stats
WBU 97 vs WCE 87 Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78 vs GWS 87 Stats
ADE 140 vs NTH 63 Stats
FRE 75 vs PTA 68 Stats
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123 vs GEE 61 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131 vs CAR 62 Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66 vs WBU 85 Report Stats
GWS 101 vs MEL 56 Stats
COL 63 vs ADE 90 Report Stats
GCF 76 vs STK 104 Stats
PTA 44 vs SYD 92 Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60 vs FRE 104 Stats
ESS 78 vs HAW 76 Stats
NTH 133 vs BRI 51 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140 vs STK 66 Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84 vs ESS 105 Stats
ADE 80 vs MEL 55 Stats
SYD 111 vs GWS 90 Report Stats
NTH 105 vs PTA 113 Stats
BRI 58 vs RIC 137 Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127 vs WBU 57 Stats
GEE 105 vs GCF 96 Stats
WCE 81 vs FRE 111 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 51 vs MEL 83 Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 81 vs CAR 121 Report Report Stats
ESS 49 vs COL 69 Report Stats
GWS 119 vs GCF 53 Stats
PTA 99 vs HAW 91 Stats
FRE 74 vs SYD 60 Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 65 vs WCE 118 Stats
GEE 67 vs NTH 83 Stats
WBU 125 vs ADE 68 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 45 vs COL 120 Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 76 vs GEE 85 Stats
SYD 73 vs WBU 77 Stats
GCF 118 vs BRI 54 Stats
NTH 70 vs HAW 130 Stats
WCE 120 vs GWS 33 Stats
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL 50 vs FRE 118 Stats
STK 80 vs ESS 82 Stats
ADE 91 vs PTA 115 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL 59 vs GEE 100 Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH 109 vs RIC 74 Stats
WBU 87 vs STK 94 Stats
GWS 108 vs HAW 98 Stats
GCF 78 vs ADE 119 Stats
MEL 50 vs SYD 88 Stats
FRE 80 vs ESS 52 Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 75 vs BRI 84 Report Stats
PTA 68 vs WCE 78 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 82 vs NTH 93 Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE 119 vs STK 73 Stats
HAW 155 vs MEL 50 Stats
CAR 57 vs GWS 135 Stats
SYD 120 vs GEE 77 Stats
WCE 135 vs GCF 43 Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU 88 vs FRE 101 Stats
RIC 105 vs COL 100 Report Stats
BRI 102 vs PTA 65 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE 140 vs CAR 63 Report Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 78 vs WCE 131 Report Stats
GWS 108 vs ADE 84 Report Stats
GCF 63 vs COL 132 Report Stats
HAW 69 vs SYD 73 Report Stats
FRE 115 vs NTH 42 Report Stats
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 136 vs BRI 78 Report Stats
MEL 103 vs WBU 64 Report Stats
PTA 43 vs RIC 76 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 19:50SCG
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 13:45AS
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
WBU vs GWS 16:35ES
RIC vs ESS 19:20MCG
ADE vs FRE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs STK 13:10G
COL vs NTH 15:20MCG
WCE vs GEE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:40MCG
GCF vs SYD 16:35MS
ESS vs GEE 19:20ES
PTA vs WBU 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS vs BRI 13:10Spotless Stadium
NTH vs WCE 15:20BA
STK vs HAW 16:40ES
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF vs FRE 13:40MS
WCE vs ESS 16:35Domain Stadium
NTH vs SYD 19:20ES
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs GWS 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs WCE 19:50MCG
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:40MCG
GWS vs NTH 16:35Spotless Stadium
WBU vs BRI 19:20ES
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE vs MEL 15:20SS
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs COL 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs RIC 19:50SCG
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ESS 13:40MCG
BRI vs ADE 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:20ES
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GCF 15:20ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 19:20SCG
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs CAR 19:20ES
MEL vs WCE 19:40TIO
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs STK 13:10ES
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE vs BRI 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs COL 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs CAR 19:50MCG
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs MEL 13:40MCG
WBU vs GCF 16:35CAZ
NTH vs GEE 19:20ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs STK 13:10Spotless Stadium
HAW vs FRE 15:20AS
BRI vs SYD 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH vs ESS 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 13:45SS
GCF vs GWS 14:10MS
COL vs WCE 16:35ES
SYD vs HAW 19:20ANZ
FRE vs CAR 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
STK vs RIC 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:45SO
ADE vs GCF 14:10Adelaide Oval
RIC vs FRE 16:35MCG
ESS vs PTA 19:20ES
BRI vs NTH 19:20G
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 13:10ES
MEL vs STK 15:20MCG
WCE vs SYD 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs BRI 13:45SS
COL vs MEL 14:10MCG
SYD vs ADE 16:35SCG
CAR vs NTH 19:20ES
GCF vs WCE 19:20MS
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA vs STK 13:10Adelaide Oval
ESS vs WBU 15:20ES
FRE vs GWS 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
WBU vs PTA 14:10ES
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
GEE vs SYD 19:20SS
WCE vs HAW 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL vs NTH 13:10MCG
GWS vs ESS 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs COL 19:50SCG
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs ADE 13:45ES
NTH vs STK 14:10BA
PTA vs GWS 16:35Adelaide Oval
GEE vs HAW 19:20MCG
BRI vs CAR 19:20G
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GCF 13:10MCG
WBU vs MEL 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs PTA 19:50ES
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs RIC 13:45MCG
GWS vs SYD 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
STK vs GEE 19:20ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs FRE 13:10ES
CAR vs MEL 15:20MCG
WCE vs WBU 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS vs CAR 13:45Spotless Stadium
HAW vs BRI 14:10AS
NTH vs WBU 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:20MCG
GCF vs PTA 19:20MS
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs WCE 13:10Adelaide Oval
STK vs SYD 15:20ES
FRE vs MEL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 00:00MCG
RIC vs NTH 00:00ES
HAW vs CAR 00:00MCG
GEE vs ADE 00:00SS
SYD vs GCF 00:00SCG
MEL vs GWS 00:00ES
BRI vs WBU 00:00G
PTA vs FRE 00:30Adelaide Oval
WCE vs STK 02:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 8 8 0 0 155.29 32
West Coast Eagles 8 6 2 0 158.17 24
Sydney Swans 8 6 2 0 127.36 24
GWS Giants 8 6 2 0 118.87 24
Collingwood 8 5 3 0 129.90 20
Adelaide Crows 8 5 3 0 116.32 20
Hawthorn 8 4 4 0 145.81 16
Richmond 8 4 4 0 107.64 16
View all
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