It was home and away time for the Joyce family from Inistioge in Kilkenny recently, when major events at opposite ends of the world split the family for different celebrations.
“It was crazy, it all kind of happened at once,” Darragh Joyce told The Irish Echo about what must have been a crazy weekend for his family.
Darragh was being handed his AFL debut in St Kilda’s tie with Melbourne at the MCG.
However, his brother Kieran was also about to become a father.
What would the Joyce parents do when two of their sons happened to be going through two big life experiences on the same weekend, but on opposite sides of the world?
Simple. Darragh’s father would stay to welcome the first grandchild, while Darragh’s mother Kathleen would fly the 22 hours to Australia to be there as Darragh played his part in St Kilda’s round 15 win over Melbourne.
“Ma hopped on the plane on Friday morning her time and the baby arrived then, it was pretty hectic,” Darragh smiled.
The game ended in a 119-117 win for Darragh’s team. So how did Darragh enjoy his first taste of AFL action?
“I suppose you don’t get too much time to think about these things when it’s all happening,” he said.
“The first game was a bit of a blur but to have mam make the journey down with all the commotion at home with the little niece arriving, it was just a super special weekend for me and one I will never forget.
“To have mam there in the changing rooms before the game when I got presented with my jersey and then for her to be there after the match to soak up the atmosphere, it was fantastic. She’s delighted she made the journey as well.
“I told her there was no pressure at all to come down because it was a big affair at home as well, but for her to be there, it was special.
“It helps when you get a win as well. One of our main defenders actually went down injured so I got the job then of marking one of their go to forwards for the majority of the game.
“That was a fantastic experience to be up against one of the best. It was a very tightly contested game as well. Melbourne are a pretty good side, they’re looking for finals this year.
“It was close near the end,” he added. “We would have probably liked to have it a bit more comfortable but to get the win at the end made it special. I’m so lucky: first game, first win.”
Darragh explained that some players have played six or eight games and they still have to experience the thrill of victory.
“I’m just one of the lucky ones, I suppose,” he smiled.
Joyce’s injured team mate Dylan Robertson told him before the game: “You’re representing your family today, your country, but for the first time you get to represent the Saints. Hopefully you get to represent us for a long time, so congratulations.”
Kieran Joyce won four hurling All-Irelands with the Cats and Darragh captained Kilkenny to an All-Ireland minor hurling championship in 2014.
He went to Australia in October 2016 after drawing the attention of St Kilda at the 2015 AFL Draft Combine.
In just 18 months the 21-year-old Rower-Inistioge man has gone from rookie to first team starter, impressing in his debut for how he marshalled experienced heavyweights like Jesse Hogan and Tom McDonald.
“It was a dream come true, a dream since I came over here come true anyway,” Darragh beamed.
“To be able to run out into the MCG was fantastic and for my mam to be able to come down as well was even better.
“Last year was a pretty tough one trying to pick up the sport, the rules, the different shape ball and then you’re coming into this professional environment and you’re trying to catch up with everyone.
“I was captain of a few teams back home. You’re always leading the way and then you come over here. You can’t really do your normal thing like instruct lads.
“It was tough going. It took me a while to adjust but you’ve just got to realise the opportunity you have and you’ve just got to take it when you get the opportunity.
“But then this year, I feel more a part of it. You know the guys at the club that extra year and you’re in with the craic in the dressing room and that kind of stuff. You feel more a part of it.
“Then when you actually go and play a game, you feel more a part of it again. Last year I struggled a bit with homesickness, but this year I’m absolutely loving it over here.”
Darragh’s debut came just two weeks before his good friend Colin O’Riordan broke through at Sydney Swans.
How long until the Kilkenny and Tipperary rivalry is renewed without a sliotar in sight?
“It was gas the way it worked out actually because we went up to Sydney to visit him so we were just talking about the possibilities of one day hopefully playing against each other,” Darragh explained.
“We’re a step closer to doing that. Hopefully one day we will pull on the jumpers against each other. Colin’s a great lad and it was great to be able to come down with him and to see his journey as well has been fantastic.”
Kilkenny recently exited the All-Ireland championship against Limerick. Does a part of Darragh wish he could have been involved?
“You would envy the lads,” he replied. “I would love to be out there but you can’t have everything. The way I look at it is, a lot of lads would give their left arm to be in my shoes and have the opportunity I have.
“Seeing the two club lads, Richie Leahy and Pat Lyng in there, you would love to be alongside them. But I’m so lucky to do what I do and I don’t take it for granted at all.
“Australia’s fantastic,” he enthused.
“Melbourne is beautiful. Well, in the Summer, it’s beautiful. It’s not so nice on a cold Winter’s night like this.
“I absolutely love Melbourne and seeing the likes of Sydney, going to visit Colin, it’s a beautiful country. Everyone’s very relaxed, a really easy place to get on.
“I love Melbourne,” he said. “I just want to stay here as long as possible.”
For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.
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