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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 2016

Round 1
Thu, 24 MarTimes shown AEDT
RIC vs CAR 19:20MCG
Sat, 26 MarTimes shown AEDT
MEL vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
NTH vs ADE 19:25ES
SYD vs COL 19:25ANZ
Sun, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
PTA vs STK 15:20Adelaide Oval
WCE vs BRI 19:40Domain Stadium
Mon, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
GEE vs HAW 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 01 AprTimes shown AEDT
COL vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
ADE vs PTA 13:45Adelaide Oval
ESS vs MEL 14:10MCG
BRI vs NTH 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:25ES
FRE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 03 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:10SO
HAW vs WCE 15:20MCG
CAR vs SYD 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 08 AprTimes shown AEST
PTA vs ESS 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 09 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs COL 13:45MCG
RIC vs ADE 14:10ES
SYD vs GWS 16:35SCG
GCF vs CAR 19:25MS
WCE vs FRE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
NTH vs MEL 13:10BA
WBU vs HAW 15:20ES
GEE vs BRI 16:40SS
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 15 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 AprTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GEE 13:45MCG
HAW vs STK 14:10AS
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
CAR vs WBU 19:25ES
ADE vs SYD 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS vs PTA 13:10SO
COL vs MEL 15:20MCG
NTH vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 22 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ADE 19:50MCG
Sat, 23 AprTimes shown AEST
SYD vs WCE 13:40SCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs BRI 19:25ES
PTA vs GEE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs GWS 13:10ES
FRE vs CAR 16:10Domain Stadium
MEL vs RIC 19:10MCG
Mon, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 29 AprTimes shown AEST
NTH vs WBU 19:50ES
Sat, 30 AprTimes shown AEST
MEL vs STK 13:45ES
ADE vs FRE 14:10Adelaide Oval
GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
RIC vs PTA 19:25MCG
GEE vs GCF 19:25SS
Sun, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs SYD 13:10G
CAR vs ESS 15:20MCG
WCE vs COL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 06 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 07 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
GEE vs WCE 14:10SS
SYD vs ESS 16:35ANZ
GCF vs MEL 17:10MS
WBU vs ADE 19:40ES
FRE vs GWS 20:10Domain Stadium
Sun, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs NTH 15:20ES
PTA vs BRI 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 13 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 14 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs NTH 13:45ES
HAW vs FRE 14:10AS
GWS vs GCF 16:35Spotless Stadium
BRI vs COL 19:25G
RIC vs SYD 19:25MCG
Sun, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs STK 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 20 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs SYD 19:50MCG
Sat, 21 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs GEE 13:45MCG
GCF vs ADE 14:10MS
PTA vs WCE 16:35Adelaide Oval
NTH vs CAR 19:25ES
FRE vs RIC 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
GWS vs WBU 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs ESS 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 27 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs NTH 19:50SCG
Sat, 28 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs HAW 13:45G
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
STK vs FRE 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:25MCG
ADE vs GWS 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GEE 13:10ES
COL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs GCF 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 03 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs RIC 19:50BA
Sat, 04 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs MEL 13:45MCG
CAR vs BRI 14:10ES
GEE vs GWS 16:35SS
GCF vs SYD 19:25MS
FRE vs ESS 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs PTA 13:10MCG
WBU vs WCE 15:20ES
ADE vs STK 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 10 JunTimes shown AEST
ESS vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 11 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs WBU 13:40Adelaide Oval
BRI vs FRE 16:35G
GEE vs NTH 19:25ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
STK vs CAR 13:10ES
RIC vs GCF 15:20MCG
GWS vs SYD 16:40Spotless Stadium
Mon, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 17 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI vs WCE 13:40G
FRE vs PTA 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs MEL 13:10SCG
ESS vs GWS 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 23 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs NTH 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 24 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs FRE 19:50MCG
Sat, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs BRI 13:40MCG
GWS vs CAR 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 15:20AS
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 30 JunTimes shown AEST
WCE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 01 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
GCF vs STK 13:40MS
SYD vs WBU 16:35SCG
CAR vs COL 19:25MCG
Sun, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs ADE 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Thu, 07 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 08 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs SYD 19:50SS
Sat, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs COL 13:40Spotless Stadium
GCF vs BRI 16:35MS
WBU vs RIC 19:25ES
MEL vs FRE 19:40TIO
Sun, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:10MCG
WCE vs NTH 15:20Domain Stadium
ESS vs STK 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Thu, 14 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs HAW 19:20SCG
Fri, 15 JulTimes shown AEST
FRE vs GEE 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs ESS 13:40MCG
NTH vs PTA 16:35ES
WBU vs GCF 19:25CAZ
ADE vs COL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs WCE 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 15:20ES
BRI vs GWS 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 22 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 23 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 13:45ANZ
GCF vs FRE 14:10MS
WCE vs MEL 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs STK 19:25ES
GEE vs ADE 19:25SS
Sun, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
HAW vs RIC 15:20MCG
PTA vs GWS 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 29 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 19:50SS
Sat, 30 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs RIC 13:45SO
HAW vs CAR 14:10AS
COL vs WCE 16:35MCG
BRI vs PTA 19:25G
NTH vs STK 19:25ES
Sun, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs GCF 13:10MCG
FRE vs SYD 15:20Domain Stadium
ADE vs ESS 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 05 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 06 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 13:45SCG
MEL vs HAW 14:10MCG
GCF vs GWS 16:35MS
WBU vs NTH 19:25ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs STK 13:10MCG
GEE vs ESS 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 12 AugTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 19:50ES
Sat, 13 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI vs CAR 13:45G
HAW vs NTH 14:10MCG
GWS vs WCE 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs SYD 19:25ES
PTA vs MEL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GCF 13:10ES
RIC vs GEE 15:20MCG
FRE vs ADE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 19 AugTimes shown AEST
WCE vs HAW 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs SYD 13:45BA
RIC vs STK 14:10MCG
GWS vs FRE 16:35Spotless Stadium
COL vs GCF 19:25ES
PTA vs ADE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs MEL 13:10MCG
BRI vs GEE 15:20G
ESS vs WBU 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Sat, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs COL 12:00MCG
STK vs BRI 12:00ES
ESS vs CAR 12:00MCG
GCF vs PTA 12:00MS
SYD vs RIC 12:00SCG
NTH vs GWS 12:00ES
GEE vs MEL 12:00SS
ADE vs WCE 12:30Adelaide Oval
FRE vs WBU 14:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Adelaide Crows 0 0 0 0 - 0
Brisbane Lions 0 0 0 0 - 0
Carlton 0 0 0 0 - 0
Collingwood 0 0 0 0 - 0
Essendon 0 0 0 0 - 0
Fremantle 0 0 0 0 - 0
Geelong Cats 0 0 0 0 - 0
Gold Coast Suns 0 0 0 0 - 0
View all

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