Zach Tuohy became an AFL champion in the early hours of Saturday morning and it was with the medal around his neck, and having achieved his loftiest ambition in the game, when he reflected on the tough days starting out.
It was in those days when it could have gone either way.
He was still just a teenager, back in 2009, when he was offered an international rookie contract by Carlton and in the thirteen years that have followed, with the 250 caps he has earned, Tuohy has become one of Ireland’s most successful ever exports. But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses and medals, as Tuohy told reporters this morning.
There are many reasons why so few Irish players make the cut in the AFL – but chief among them is homesickness and having gone through it all, having been a teenager in a different country, on the other side of the world, Tuohy knows all about it.
“Every player has tough times, but I think the homesickness is a unique experience for the Irish guys,” he said.
“Although players shift states, you can’t even pick up the phone at all times to call your family because it’s the middle of the night.
“Even that alone I think people probably don’t appreciate how hard that can be.”
“I’m lucky to be in the environment I’m in, but there were a lot of bad days early,” the 32-year-old added.
“We’re in a privileged position, I don’t want anybody’s sympathy, but it is hard, especially when you’re 18 and I’d never left Ireland by myself, much less come to Australia.
But it’s on days like today when those struggles seem worthwhile. Obviously, Tuohy did it for himself, but he also did it for friends and family and you could see that there and then as he collected his medal. It was one of the big stages in world sport and there he was, shouting ‘come on the town,’ with a Portlaoise GAA flag draped around his shoulders for the world to watch.
“I know it (premiership) means a lot to my family especially, even more than me,” he said.
“We talked and it feels a bit like it’s full circle. I’ve got a Portlaoise flag, which is where I started. It hasn’t sunk in.
“I tried FaceTime-ing in my parents out on the ground and showed them and I couldn’t hear a thing to be honest.
COME ON THE TOWNpic.twitter.com/CVHsPrAaZp
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) September 24, 2022
“Everyone got up and watched. This is honestly as much for them and particularly my parents.
“You want good values and good people around, I’m just so lucky to have the parents I have, honestly.
“It was a 5.30 start I think. Everybody got up, all my mates got up, the extended family got up and it would have been a shame to ruin their good night’s sleep for no reason.”