Tuohy’s homecoming a humbling experience after flag triumph

Zach Tuohy has always loved heading home to Ireland in the off-season. But this year he had an extra bounce in his step.

It wasn’t just because he had not returned to his home town, Portlaoise, since COVID-19 swept the world.

Zach Tuohy was carried from the ground draped in the Irish flag after winning a premiership in his 250th gameCredit:The Age

And it wasn’t just because he was to celebrate his marriage to Rebecca Price in front of their two children, Rafferty and Flynn, as well as family and friends from Ireland and Australia.

This time around, after leaving in late 2009 to become an AFL player, he was returning with a premiership medallion, he and his Cats’ teammate Mark O’Connor joining ex-Sydney star Tadhg Kennelly as the only Irishmen to play in an AFL premiership.

“It felt like I had lived through a lot since I had last been home. The support from back home never wavered over those few years, but it felt really satisfying to go back feeling a little bit as though it was mission accomplished,” Tuohy said.

The proud Portlaoise man, who draped an Irish flag across his shoulders as he was chaired from the ground after playing his 250th game in the grand final, was humbled at the reception he received, with welcome-home events, including with past Portloaise coaches and teammates, organised to celebrate the achievement.

“They recognised me in their own way, which I was not expecting at all, but they put on a couple of events that were things I will never forget,” Tuohy said.

Being a premiership player, however, did not dim his enthusiasm to return to Australia for another pre-season with the Cats as they chase back-to-back flags.

His persistence and durability has been remarkable; good judges at Geelong rank him near the top of their list of value-for-money players.

Tuohy has not played fewer than 18 games a season since 2012, his durability once helping him string together 138 consecutive games between 2013 and 2019.

He can’t resist repeating a joke his dad, Noel, likes to use at the expense of his mother, Marie, when asked how his body has escaped serious injury.

“My father always says I have got his charm and good looks and I have got my mum’s big powerful thighs. That was always my dad’s line,” Tuohy said.

On a more serious note, Tuohy admits he sharpened up his approach after a knee issue made several pre-seasons between 2019 and 2021 a battle.

He recognised he had to be more diligent about all aspects of his preparation as the years ticked by. He is also full of praise for those at the club that have kept his body ticking along. And he would not be Irish if he did not admit that luck has played its part.

But he also says he eventually found a way to deal with the frustration that built when he felt that his troublesome knee was restricting his output.

“Off the back of conversations with a few people it occurred to me that the best thing for performance is to be in a good headspace to enjoy your footy,” Tuohy said. “Part of that is to not beat yourself up when things aren’t necessarily going the way they should. Later in your career it becomes as much a mental game as it is physical one.”

Zach Tuohy.kicked two goals in the first four minutes of the Cats’ round one clash against CollingwoodCredit:AFL Photos

He finished seventh in the best and fairest in 2022, playing wherever the team needed him most. His positive approach to being thrown different jobs ensured he maintained a high standard of performance whenever the Cats hollered for Tuohy.

“I like being moved around. I know a lot of players don’t and would rather be settled in one position but … I like the idea that I can free up other players. I’m at a stage in my career where I don’t care very much about my own output as long as whatever I am doing is moving the team forward and being able to play multiple positions is the best way of doing that,” Tuohy said.

So, it was no wonder that the coaches turned to Tuohy last Friday night in the blockbuster against the Pies, to fortify the Cats’ defence when vice captain Tom Stewart hurt his knee before quarter-time. This despite the fact Tuohy was on track to end Tom Hawkins’ 11-year reign as the Cats’ leading goalkicker after kicking two goals in the opening four minutes.

On Thursday night he shapes up against his former club Carlton, a game he admits remains his “favourite fixture”.

Reminded that Ed Curnow is the only Blues player remaining from his debut in 2011, Tuohy catches his breath. “Shit, that makes me feel old.”

But he is still going strong, just14 games shy of Jim Stynes’ 264-game tally, the most AFL games by an Irishman.

Stynes’ mark is not something he has his eye on, but serves as a handy signal as to how significant Tuohy’s career has been in embedding the hard-headed yet humorous Irish imprint on the game.

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