Zach Tuohy will line up in his 150th match on Saturday night against Port Adelaide, funnily enough the opponent he played in his first AFL game. One of his close friends who made the trek from Ireland alongside him in 2009, Ciaran Sheehan, provides a poignant insight into the little-known Irishman who became an elite half-back.
The first time I met officially Zach Tuohy was at Dublin Airport. Well, when I say officially, I mean I had played against him in Gaelic football and attended an International AFL camp with him previously.
I was 18 at the time and Zach was 19. My first impression was this guy belongs as a lead guitarist in the next up and coming rock band, he had this long brown hair that wouldn’t be out of place in the 70s and 80s era.
Zach will tell you that a goal he scored in an under-18 all-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park put his name on the map, but really it was his flowing locks and the four stars tattoo going up the back of his calf that made him stand out over everyone else.
All jokes aside, it was quite clear from when I met Zach at Dublin Airport that he was his own person, which was something I admired straight away. As we waved goodbye to our parents and set off to the other side of the world to what was essentially the unknown, there was a nervous excitement that, looking back, was clearly evident from both of us.
Four weeks of hard training finished with both of us signing International Rookie contracts for Carlton Football Club back in 2009. We did make our way down to Lorne to Greg Swann’s holiday house in between all the training and had our first introduction to Victoria Bitter.
Little did we know that finding a taxi at 2am might prove difficult, we ended up walking home, a walk that should have taken 20 minutes ended up taking us well over an hour! It was an interesting trip back to Swanny’s house to say the least.
We flew back home and were set to re-join the players for the start of the 2009 pre-season but I ended up making the decision to stay at home after homesickness got the better of me.
To this day I still feel a bit regretful for not being there with Zach as he pursued his AFL dream. But again it shows the person he is, back on a plane on his own and through sheer determination and persistence combined with talent, he made the breakthrough and now poses as one of the best defenders in the game.
The breakthrough didn’t come easy for Zach, though. he was consistently performing at VFL level but couldn’t quite get into the senior side. Step in Alan Richardson who I know Zach speaks very highly of. After some persistent backing from Richo, Zach finally got his chance against Port Adelaide in Round 11, 2011 and took it with both hands.
I had been keeping an eye on Zach’s progress from back in Ireland and was very excited to see that he had now become a regular player in the senior side. Zach’s success played a huge factor in me making the decision to give AFL another shot and I know I am speaking on behalf of all the Irish recruits but I can safely say that Zach would have been an inspiration for all the Irish lads who make/made the decision to come out to Australia to pursue the AFL dream.
His professionalism along with his witty personality is the perfect blend to give an athlete that sustained success at AFL level. Yes it is high pressure, but Zach always manages to find the lighter side to what can be a pretty intense environment at times. Although, his decision to wear a long sleeve jumper last week put our friendship into question because no matter how cold it was in Geelong, it was still 20 degrees warmer than Laois!
From a mop of hair and star tattoos, to a big bushy beard and more tattoos, he is definitely his own man. But now he shares that with his beautiful family Bec and Flynn who I know he values above all.
All I can say is congratulations on what has been a great journey so far for you and I’m privileged to be able to have been a little part of it. Go well in game 150 mate, you’re doing your hometown and your country proud. Best of luck! (ádh mór!)