- 15 Aug 19
As he launched a new jersey he's designed for Littlewoods, the legendary Kilkenny defender talked to Paul Nolan about Sunday's eagerly awaited clash.
With this year's hotly anticipated hurling final between Tipperary and Kilkenny taking place on Sunday, Hot Press caught up for a chat with Kilkenny legend Jackie Tyrrell in Dublin's D-Light Studios, where the nine-time All Ireland winner was launching a new jersey he has designed, to celebrate the launch of the range of GAA county jerseys now available on LittlewoodsIreland.ie.
"My life and career is wrapped up in Kilkenny," reflects Jackie. "I hurled with Kilkenny for 14 years and I still play with my club James Stephens. When Littlewoods were working with O'Neills to get the jerseys on their website, I designed the jersey. I like to think it's cutting edge – I love the colours of the neon green and the grey.
"I wanted to individualise it to myself, so I put my signature in the bottom right hand corner and I put 14 lines down the middle to represent my 14 years with Kilkenny. So that makes it unique to me – it has meaning and a bit of depth."
In common with high-profile ex-Kerry player Paul Galvin – recently announced as new Wexford manager – Tyrrell is a self-acknowledged lover of clothes and style. It all suggests a serious shift in the traditional image of the GAA player. Certainly, it would have been hard to imagine Tyrrell's one-time Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody, raving about Armani and Karl Lagerfeld during his early '80s playing days.
"You look back at some of the suits they wore back then!" laughs Jackie. "Then there was other stuff in sport over the years, like the infamous white suits Liverpool wore before that FA Cup final against Man Utd. It's amazing the analogies and the parallels you can take from fashion, but it's always been in sport, just in different forms.
"With the way it's gone in recent years, I would say it's very much representative of the modern guy. They're into their image – it sort of dovetails with the training and how guys look. And lads just want to present themselves in the best way possible, on and off the field. But it's definitely a new trend, and you see more guys getting involved with different brands and that whole industry. I'd say it's only going to continue."
Looking ahead to Sunday's mouthwatering clash, there is a feeling Kilkenny might be a bit surprised to find themselves in the final this year, with the pundits and bookies having a number of teams ahead of them in the pecking order at the start of the season. But Kilkenny have a core of talented players led by the evergreen TJ Reid, as well as one inestimable advantage: manager Brian Cody, now going for a staggering 11th All Ireland title.
"Maybe it's a slight surprise considering the year we had last year," says Jackie. "We were beaten in the All Ireland quarter final and we had a mixed bag in the league – we ended up in the bottom two for relegation. After that, we had a load of injuries going into the championship, with key guys missing. We didn't really know where we were.
"In fairness to the lads and Brian, they rallied around and came out of the round robin. They then had a relatively average Leinster final performance, and there were probably a few questions internally about what they were about. But in fairness to Brian Cody, talk about ripping up the script – he's done it so many times."
Over the past 10 years, of course, Tipp and Kilkenny have become a rivalry apart. The four-in-a-row team Tyrrell played on had their drive for five ended by a Lar Corbett hat-trick in 2010, but the stratospheric standards the team had set resulted in Tipp – and the other top counties – pushing themselves harder and harder to compete with Cody's once-in-a-generation team.
In recent years, this has seen the hurling championship soar to unprecedented heights: a strong contender for the all-time greatest championship in 2013 was followed by an iconic drawn final between Tipp and Kilkenny in 2014, cited by many as the greatest game of all-time.
It was truly gripping stuff that culminated in a last gasp 45 by Bubbles O'Dwyer being ruled out by Hawkeye, with Kilkenny putting in a characteristically barnstorming display in the replay to eventually claim Liam MacCarthy. At five years' remove, what does Jackie make of it all?
"The first game in 2014, if we're looking at it in the cold light of day, Tipperary probably should have beaten us," he reflects. "They were the better team. Thankfully Hawkeye pulled us out of a hole that day and we survived. As a set of backs, Tipp's forwards got the better of us the first day, and we were hurt over that. Our forwards had produced and we felt that if we could up our performance as backs in the replay, we could win.
"The thing about Tipp and Kilkenny is, they always produce. Whether it's a league game in February or an All Ireland final, no matter what, there is a rivalry there. The competitiveness comes out in all these lads and they will fight for everything. It'll be no different on Sunday – it's the gift that keeps on giving as a rivalry. They don't like each other and that's part of sport.
"Of course, when you go over the four white lines, that comes out in you. Afterwards we all have jobs to go to and it's just sport. But for those 70 minutes – you forget about that and it's just you and him."
For details on the Jackie Tyrrell-designed jersey and the O'Neills range, check out LittlewoodsIreland.ie