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14th Mar 2020

From dancing around Nowlan Park to that Croke Park buzz again

Niall McIntyre

The stories became fables. The A vs B games in Kilkenny training, became the stuff of legend.

Jackie Tyrrell let the ordinary world in on this plain beyond reality in his thrill-a-minute autobiography, The Warrior’s Code. There were the stories of Cody and the lost whistle. The skelps, the fights, the kicks, the fact that this match right here, in Nowlan Park of bibs, goals and 30 Kilkenny men on a summer’s evening, could well be the toughest and most competitive game these fellas will get to play all year, and then, then there was ‘Taggy.’

When you think Kilkenny hurlers, you’re reminded Shefflin, Carey, Larkin, Tyrrell himself maybe, but rarely Fogarty. You look back at Jackie Tyrrell’s great, nine time All-Ireland medal winning career and think to yourself sure imagine how good a corner back you’d be yourself, if you were marking DJ Carey in training every second night of the week.

It wasn’t Shefflin or Carey, Larkin that Tyrrell dreaded skipping over to him, intent on making his next hour a living hell, it was Aidan Fogarty, that light footed speed demon from Urlingford, and a living hell the next hour would be.

Fogarty never won an All-Star with Kilkenny and often times, was on the periphery of the team but inside the county they were schooled enough and had been thrilled enough by the buck-lepping corner forward, to know his worth on the panel.

‘He was the toughest player to mark in training,’ it went ‘because you never knew what he was going to do with the ball, I don’t even think he knew what he was going to do himself,’ said Tyrrell.

There was something unorthodox about Fogarty. First of all, that he went to school in the lion’s den of Thurles across Tipperary, yes Tipperary lines but it was there, in that county, when the trainers-cum-teachers noticed something a little unusual about the Kilkenny fella.

He held the hurl differently. In right hand, but then would put the left hand over the right to strike the ball, rather than under. He could also catch the ball in either hand, depending on his mood. In hurling terms, this was awkward and hastily advised but Fogarty was so good in primary school, that nobody saw the point in trying to change him.

They tried, he tried in Thurles, but it was too late then.

“I often wonder, would I have been better if I hurled the proper way, would I have been worse?”

“I might have been a better striker of the ball anyway, but if I was teaching kids nowadays, I’d teach them the proper way, no doubt,” says Taggy, who’s nickname went from Tadpole to Taddy to Taggy, having been named after his older brother Philip’s nickname – his moniker was Froggy.

Fogarty did more than just get away with this self-directed and ill-considered style though, as Tyrrell’s nightmares tell. This is a corner forward who was man-of-the-match in an All-Ireland final at 22, and won seven more All-Irelands after.

Tyrrell wasn’t the only one to dread his sight, in Tipp, Cork, Waterford, they’d all knew to start worrying when Cody opted to let Fogarty loose.

“I pulled him up on that!” he says of Tyrrell’s musings.

“He was right though, I held the hurl wrong. I could catch it in my left and right hand, I could make a run into space out of nothing and I actually found marking Jackie okay because I knew he hated my style. I used to pull him all around the field because fitness was my thing, I used to run him and he absolutely hated that! If you stood beside him, you’d get nothing…”

There isn’t a corner back who likes being ran at and Cody once called Fogarty Mr. ‘Greased Lightning -‘ a look at his goal in the 2012 All-Ireland final, when he left Conor O’Mahony, Paddy Stapleton and others in the Tipp back-line literally for dead, shows where his manager is coming from.

“I would have been about a sharp turn and pace on the hurling field, unfortunately the pace is gone now but it has helped me…”

“I’d be just thinking about training all the time back in those days, our A vs B games were unbelievable, they were, they were savage back then in the height of the summer…”

The fear of being dropped, and Fogarty was often the unlucky corner forward to be pulled if things weren’t going to plan, was a frustration for him, but something that drove that Kilkenny team to unparalleled levels of success.

“Cody always kept lads feet on the ground I remember Tommy Walsh saying, ‘you have to be at your best’ and I’m thinking you’re one of the best hurlers I’ve ever seen, and he’s thinking that way too…If you were going well in training, you were going to make it!”

And that greased lightning nickname was always going to come back, it bears even more relevance now. As he prepares for another big semi-final, this time in Donnybrook as an RTÉ Dancing With The Stars celebrity, Fogarty recalls the team holidays when he’d be the first one up, throwing shapes on the tables.

“I had a bit of rhythm as well, even in team holidays and stuff, I’d be the one called up and I’d strut my stuff for 30 seconds!

“When they found out first, they said, they picked the right lad anyway…”

Five years out of the Kilkenny set-up, the 37-year-old hadn’t a clue who was on the phone to him or what they wanted when he was first asked about Dancing With The Stars but what harm in another challenge? He’s delighted he took the plunge.

“It was the most random phone-call I ever got. They rang me and I thought it was a local thing, I said, I’d do it, I have no kids, no real ties, I have a bit of time – Kilkenny is over four years, I said why not? I might as well take on a new challenge and if it opens new doors, so be it!

“It’s unreal intense, I lost a stone in the first few weeks, and I wouldn’t be carrying a lot of weight. I’m after toning up unbelievably, see with training with Kilkenny and the club and all, you do your hour and a half and you go home. With the dancing, you go in at ten in the morning and you mightn’t be home until ten at night…Injuries came back to haunt me, that I had at hurling, I have a new-found respect for dancers, I’ll tell you that!

And as for the Kilkenny lads, the bonds you build playing GAA are stronger than anything else.

“Sure they all want tickets for the show, they’re all being a great support…I’ve met Brian Cody once and sure Brian is Brian, he just shook my hand and said ‘you’re a dancer now,’ I am I said, ‘you’re in fair shape,’ he said and I told him I’d keep my phone on!

But for now, the focus is on Sunday night’s semi-final. It’s a long way from Jones’ Road and 80 thousand people but believe it or not, there’s another buzz keeping Taggy going now.

“We often say, that 15 seconds after winning an All-Ireland final – if you could bottle it, the closest thing to it would be to win with your club but to perform and dance to an audience on Dancing With The Stars with everyone cheering you, it’s the same type of feeling…”

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