Taggy went out on highest of highs

Clares Patrick Donnellan tries to get to grips with Aidan Fogarty - one of many defenders who found the Emeralds man to be a real handful in his years as a dangerous member of the Kilkenny attack.
A fan favourite in all his years terrorising defences, Kilkenny’s flying forward Aidan Fogarty was taken aback by the reaction to his retirement.

A fan favourite in all his years terrorising defences, Kilkenny’s flying forward Aidan Fogarty was taken aback by the reaction to his retirement.

“It’s been a bit strange,” he said. “My phone was nearly in meltdown on Wednesday (the day he announced his retirement) with all the messages and calls from people wishing me the best of luck. It was the same the day after, so I’m only coming to terms with it now, but I’m in a good place.”

The Emeralds (Urlingford) man was touched by the plaudits he received once news broke he was stepping away from the inter-county scene.

“It was a bit of surprise,” he admitted. “When you’re playing for Kilkenny you spend a lot of time preparing for games and getting yourself ready so you do lose contact with the bigger scenario; it takes over things.

“The big surprise was the number of calls from friends I would have hurled with over 10 years ago. Guys like that and old managers rang me - I was very humbled over the last few days.

“Seeing all those reactions and the photos of old matches along the way makes you realise ‘I was hurling with Kilkenny at the highest standard and I have a lot of achievements’. You don’t think about those things when you’re playing, you concentrate on the next year or the next game.”

Taking in all those achievements isn’t something that will be done in a matter of days either.

“I haven’t had that chance,” he said. “I’ve met lads the last few days and they’re talking about the All-Irelands I’ve won, the Man of the Match from the 2006 final and Leinster medals, but it still hasn’t fully sunk in. I got a phone call from Martin Fogarty, who said how one All-Ireland back in his day would have been massive - even to play with Kilkenny would have been a huge achievement.

“I suppose it hasn’t sunk in yet; I probably won’t be able to fully appreciate it for a year or two, when you look back and say ‘wasn’t it a great time?’.

“I know there are good friends of mine who are still hurling,” he added. “Maybe when it’s all wrapped up we’ll get a true feeling of what we’ve done.”

The first feeling of retirement might only be a few weeks away. Instead of preparing for the Walsh Cup, Fogarty will be able to put his feet up!

Massive change

“This time of year is grand as there’s never much happening, but I know I’ll experience a massive change in January and February when the Walsh Cup and the League are starting,” he said.

“While both competitions are important, as you get older the championship is the one you’re preparing for,” he added. “I think that next year, when the big days of semi-finals and finals are coming up, that’s when it’ll kick in.

“You realise the buzz that’s around Kilkenny on days like that. You’re involved in that, you’re aware of it when you’re in the dressing-room getting ready for big matches. That’s when it’ll hit me, as my routine will be totally different. I’ll still have the club, but the same intensity won’t be there.

“It’ll be a lot more relaxed,” he added. “I’ll still have the match to look forward to, but there will be the freedom of being able to do what I like.”

For Fogarty, calling it a day wasn’t a snap decision.

“Back in January it did cross my mind that this could be my last year,” he admitted. “You have to be realistic; I’m 32 and not getting any younger, but I said I’d give it this year and see how it went. Thankfully the year went well for us, but once I made that decision it went out of my head - I was totally back in the mode of focusing on my training and getting myself right.

“I went out on the highest of highs,” he said. “Winning the All-Ireland is the ultimate and after that I sat down and weighed up my options,” he continued. “I was in a great position. We’d won the All-Ireland. I was happy in how I’d hurled all year - I’m not injured, the body is in good shape. It was a good time to go.

“I was happy with that as, once I got to 29, 30 years of age I’d thought about how I would finish up,” he added. “The one thing I didn’t want was to finish wondering if I went back would I be on the team, would I get matches or would I be upset watching from the stands.

“I can honestly say I’ve not regretted anything. I have enough done and it’s all behind me now. It will always be a big part of my life, but I was happy to make the decision.”

Natural progression

Of course, news of Fogarty’s retirement was followed by the departure of Brian Hogan. With Tommy Walsh and David Herity also exiting the senior spotlight, many may see it as the beginning of the end for Kilkenny’s gold era, but Fogarty simply sees it as natural progression. The wheel continues to turn...

“Personally it’s the end of an era,” he said. “I’ve had 15 years there from minor up to senior levels. It’s probably the same for the other lads, but if you look at Kilkenny the team has changed so many times over the years. It’s one of the qualities Brian Cody has - he’s made the changes which have almost gone unnoticed.

“One lad might slip in one year, another the year after - next thing you know six years have gone by and the team has changed an awful lot,” he continued. “When I started, you had the likes of Martin Comerford, Noel Hickey and Mick Kavanagh. They’ve stepped away, but there hasn’t been much talk about them because the county has continued winning and the progress has been there - that’s what has to be done.

“As a player you’re looking at this and saying ‘I want to be playing’. I’ve often thought that if I was manager you have to make sure things are going well and that you’re bringing people through, but it hit me when Tommy went,” he said. “I have serious respect for Tommy; he represented Kilkenny hurling for me. When he left I felt times were changing.

“The four of us going together is a bit strange,” he admitted. “I’ve never seen it with Kilkenny hurling before, but the lads had their decisions made. We went out on the highest of highs, but you have to be realistic. The lads who have gone were in and out of the team all year; we weren’t that permanent. It’s progression.”

Uncertainty over a starting berth was frustrating, but Fogarty’s perspective let him see things from all angles.

“As a player you want to play every match,” he said. “You want to play Walsh Cup, League - you want to be on the team. When I was younger I felt it was just great being there, but then when I was on the team it was a whole different experience. Being on the field, on the team when you’re winning things is a brilliant feeling. You want to get that back the whole time.

“It’s frustrating when you’re not starting, but on the other side of things there are young lads coming through,” he continued. “We came through and we took the jerseys off other players - now the progression is that they’re taking the shirts from us. I wanted to play this year, so I said that I’d get myself in the best possible position to do that.

“I looked after myself off the field and on the field. I concentrated on myself and was happy in my hurling. I had a good year in hurling terms, I felt I played well all year.

“It’s all part of the progression,” he said. “From a management point of view you have to keep things fresh, which is the difference.”

The hardest question was saved for last - what was his fondest moment?

“It’s a tough one as I haven’t had much time to reflect, but I will miss the craic of the dressing-room,” he said. “You’ll never get that feeling back, the relaxed atmosphere when everyone’s fully fit and moving in the one direction. When it all comes together, sometimes on All-Ireland day, it’s a great feeling.

“There are personal moments too,” he added. “The 2006 All-Ireland was my first and that was special. That game went well for me, so it has to be there as a great moment in my career, but so too are the three in a row, the four in a row and the 2013 Kilkenny v Tipp match in Nowlan Park, where the atmosphere was just electric.

“Lads were in there three and four hours before the game started,” he recalled. “The city was a hive of activity and the buzz about the place was incredible. We had a never-say-die attitude, and the atmosphere in the dressing-room was something else. There was no way we were going to be beaten.”

Statement issued by Aidan Fogarty:

“After 11 years I am withdrawing from the Kilkenny senior hurling panel. I make this decision totally comfortable in the knowledge that now is the right time for me to move on.

“Playing hurling for Kilkenny at the highest level has been exciting, enjoyable, rewarding and, at times, challenging. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people who have supported, encouraged or who have just been there for me during this chapter of my life.

“I wish to thank Brian Cody and the various management teams for giving me the opportunity to be part of such a successful panel for so long. The Kilkenny Co Board deserve huge credit for how they look after their players.

“I am grateful to my club Emeralds and the many coaches who have helped me develop my skills and achieve my potential. My employer, CBE, have facilitated me in every way possible.

“In a special way I thank my girlfriend, Ailish, my father, my family and mentors for their patience and support. I remember my late uncle, Pa Dillon for his pride and confidence in me.

“I wish the Kilkenny team and management every success in the years ahead.”