Jackie Tyrrell - his book is generating plenty of debate
*I personally got a kick out of being overly physical, of taking it as far as I possibly could. I liked being portrayed as an enforcer. It fed into my ego."
Jackie Tyrrell, The Warrior’s Code
So. That book of Jackie’s. Have you read it? Do you intend to read it at some stage? Or have you, like a couple of people I know, been so put off by the newspaper extracts that you’re refusing to go there?
The first thing to be said is that large parts of the book are very good indeed. Unlike some memoirists, Jackie doesn’t go through the motions. He is thoughtful, he has plenty to say and he doesn’t shy away from certain topics. Whether he ends up going too far in the other direction is a matter for his readership.
The book is at its strongest and sharpest in its pen pictures of the men he soldiered with. There’s an affectionate portrait of Rackard Cody. Those quiet heroes of Kilkenny’s golden age are rightly highlighted: Peter Barry, Michael Rice, Aidan Fogarty and his “awkward hardness” (what a great and apposite phrase), Derek Lyng (“he represented everything Brian believed in”). The importance of Mick Dempsey is stressed, as is the influence of Noel Richardson on the physical side (“he took us to another level”).
Jackie is honest about his relationship with the boss man, which he reveals has always been strictly business, and he neatly pinpoints what he regards as Brian Cody’s greatest achievement: “getting lads to believe that we need Kilkenny more than Kilkenny needs us”.
Nor does he stint on the personal. For years he feared he wasn’t good enough to make the grade. Late nights put him on edge. He feels guilty if he eats a couple of squares of chocolate. He also tells the tale of how he temporarily stole a car in Cork during his college days and recounts the bizarre episode a few years back – I’d completely forgotten this - when rumours did the rounds that he was gay.
Jackie, of course, was Kilkenny’s resident nightclub bouncer. He is not slow to remind us of this. Consider the following variations on a theme.
“We didn’t just want to beat them – we wanted to set them back for a decade… We weren’t long about putting those ambitions out of their heads… We wanted to trample them into the ground like dirt… We wanted to embarrass players, to mentally dominate them... We put hurling out of the heads of some of their players for a long time.”
Wearying, huh? That’s a fault with The Warrior’s Code. The author overdoes the machismo.
As for his assertion that Kilkenny’s aim was “to take over hurling completely, to wipe the floor with everyone”, sorry: I’m not buying it for a minute.
What were the men around him worried about every day they took the field? Winning the match, yes. World domination, no.
Michael Kavanagh was determined to hit as much clean ball as he could. Tommy was determined to hit as much ball – any kind of ball - as he could. J.J. was determined to hit as little ball as he could just as long as his man was hitting even less. Brian Hogan was keen to compress the space between the half-back and full-back lines and to ensure nobody sneaked behind in him. And so on.
The book’s other big weakness lies in its attitude towards Tipperary. Jackie is unfair and ungracious to them. There is no other way of phrasing it.
In the period of which he writes, the counties clashed in three National League finals, two of which went to extra time and the other of which was won by a puck of a ball. They met in the championship seven times in the space of six consecutive seasons with the following outcomes: Kilkenny by five, Tipperary by eight, Kilkenny by four, Kilkenny by 18, Kilkenny by three, draw, Kilkenny by three.
If Kilkenny were the better team, which they clearly were, then they usually weren’t the better team by much. For that reason Tipperary surely deserve a share of the plaudits. There is no shame attached to being a very good team that had the misfortune to come up against all-time greats. A Mill House to Arkle, a Frazier to Ali.
But Jackie doesn’t say this. He doesn’t acknowledge Tipp’s achievement in coming back year after year, a feat that clearly took considerable resilience; instead it’s a dismissive “mentally they didn’t have it”. And did he really have to describe John O’Dwyer as “flaky”?
Turns out there’s so much in The Warrior’s Code that I’ll need a second go. The stuff about Brian Cody and Kilkenny hurling in general next week. It merits no less.