Home We Are Laois Family pride to the fore as Zach seeks crowning glory in Australia

Family pride to the fore as Zach seeks crowning glory in Australia

In normal circumstances, some of the extended Tuohy family would have been hopping on a plane to Australia this week to watch Zach in the Australian Rules grand final in Brisbane.

His Geelong side play Richmond in the final with Geelong looking to win the first ‘Premiership’ since 2011 and reigning champions Richmond seeking to win a third in four years.

But the Coronavirus restrictions mean that the Tuohys will have to watch it from their sitting room on BT Sport this Saturday morning as the Portlaoise man plays in the biggest game of his career.

In a normal year, it would have been played in front over 100,000 people in the MCG stadium in Melbourne but because of the hard lockdown in the city, the final is instead being played in the Gabba stadium in Brisbane.

It’s the first time since 1901 that it won’t be played in the MCG.

The Queensland state isn’t under anything like the same level of restrictions, however, meaning that 30,000 will be able to attend and it will be watched by TV audience of over three million viewers. Tickets for the final sold out in 20 minutes. 

Tuohy is joined on the Geelong team by Mark O’Connor from Kerry and they’re looking to follow in the footsteps of Tadhg Kennelly who is the only Irish player to have ever won a Grand Final.

From all the Irish players that have played in Australia over the years only Kennelly in 2005 and 2006 with the Sydney Swans and Jim Stynes and Sean Wight with the Melbourne Demons have even played in a Grand Final.

Speaking this week on the LaoisToday Talking Sport Podcast, which will be available to download on Thursday, Zach’s parents Noel and Marie and his sister Naomi, spoke of how proud they are of his achievements and his journey since first moving to Australia in 2009.

“It’s a bit surreal,” said Marie.

“You look back and you think where have those years gone – he’s actually achieved this.

“Of course I’m looking forward to it and I’m really hoping for the win because it’s his heart’s desire (but) I’m a bit anxious at the moment waiting around for it.”

Reflecting on when Zach first moved to Australia, she said that she tried not too look too far down the road.

“I never thought that far ahead. It was such a huge move. Zach had never travelled anywhere in the world on his own at that stage.

“I was worried I suppose, I was excited. It was mixed emotions. I was sad at him leaving home but it was such an unusual thing to happen.

“At that time I would have known so little about AFL. I would have known Colm Begley from Stradbally had been out there. He would have been the only one I’d have known anything about.

“It was a massive move but I never thought that far ahead.

“I was nervous for him on a practical level – how would he cope being that far from away home. He’d lived in Carlow for a year but that would have been a very different thing.

“Zach would have been very family-orientated and he is the youngest and there is something about the youngest in any family.

“But once he got there … my focus was on him making it. You were avidly reading every line you could find about him, when he was playing the VFL, the lower leagues.”

Zach is the youngest of a family of four with Naomi the eldest followed by Noel John and Hannah.

And Naomi admitted on the podcast that she cried for a week after Zach left home.

“It was strange. There is eight years between us but Zach was very much the pet. He was certainly my pet,” she said.

“I think I was the oldest and I was out in the world and everyone else was living at home. I was more worried I think than Hannah and Noel John. I cried for a week. I’m known as the crier of the family.

“I never ever thought it would come to what it has come to. I thought he’d go over and give it a go.

“He’s such a home bird. Not that I thought he wouldn’t have the ability to do it but I never thought he’d stay away from home that long.

“He just outdid himself … which was fantastic.”

And Noel reflected on Zach leaving too, and how he initially hoped he’d return and stay at home for good.

“It was dreadful for me because I was the one sent to the airport to let him off,” he said.

“His mother or sisters weren’t brave enough to go,” he joked.

“It was very difficult to see this young guy walk into the crowd. He looked around as if he didn’t know where he was going.

“I thought to myself, ‘I hope he comes back in two weeks and stays at home (because) I don’t want to do this again’. But he’s a determined fella.

“On he went and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Naomi says that had it been a normal year, she’d have been booking her flights to Australia straight after their semi-final success last week.  

“100% and I don’t think I’d have been on my own either. There would have been a few of us on our way.

“It’s so unfortunate that it’s happening at this time but it’s absolutely fantastic that they are in it. But I would have loved to have been at it.”

“There’s every chance of it, even if it was only for a week,” said Noel when he asked if he’d have been on that flight too.

Himself and Marie have travelled out numerous times over the years both when Zach was in Carlton and in more recent years in Geelong.

They’ve become quite used to the culture out there and what the AFL means to the people in Melbourne and Geelong.

“It’s a shame to miss it but (hopefully) we’ll have another chance next year or the year after.

“If they win it, I don’t mind where I watch it.”

The full podcast which features an in-depth discussion with Noel, Marie and Naomi – as well as a chat with Greg Dundas from the Geelong Advertiser newspaper and an interview with Zach’s Portlaoise team-mate Kieran Lillis and former AFL player Colm Begley – will be available to listen to on Thursday morning. 

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