Zach Tuohy has mixed feelings about surpassing Jim Stynes's AFL record and eyes Laois return

Zach Tuohy is set to make the record number of appearances by an Irish player in the AFL
Zach Tuohy is set to make the record number of appearances by an Irish player in the AFL Zach Tuohy is set to make the record number of appearances by an Irish player in the AFL

Humble Portlaoise star Zach Tuohy is struggling with feelings of guilt just six days out from breaking the late Jim Stynes’s 264-game record as the most prolific Irish player in AFL history. 

Geelong veteran Tuohy who equalled Stynes’ record in last Friday’s 2023 grand final rematch away to the Sydney Swans, insists the only measure of career success was winning the premiership last year, when he along with Kerry’s Mark O’Connor joined Tadhg Kennelly (for Sydney in 2005), as the only Irish players to win the ultimate prize in Australian rules football. 

“It's strange one, you kind of look back, my first year in the reserve reserves, playing one senior AFL game or a hundred games was a long way off,” Tuohy explained. 

“It’s surreal. My career would not have been a success if I had not won the flag last year because you set out to win something and don’t win it, then it’s a failure. I have plenty of things I consider to be a failure in my AFL career, that’s just the way I am. 

“Jim is an icon of the game. I almost feel guilty going past him. It’s not something I have been striving to do.” 

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Read more: Zach Tuohy to get a shot at Stynes's record as Conor McKenna's Lions maintain winning formOpens in new window ]

Tuohy arrived at Carlton in the 2011 rookie draft as an unknown 19-year-old but went on to feature in 120 senior AFL games over six years for the Navy Blues before moving to Geelong in 2017.  

Since then, the respected running defender has notched 144 games for the Cats. He has so far featured in two AFL Grand finals, experiencing the agony of defeat to Richmond in 2020, before making history against the Sydney Swans in last year’s season’s decider. 

Tuohy sadly never met Melbourne Demons legend Stynes, but in typically selfless manner has arranged a gift that he will present to the Stynes family after Sunday’s record-breaking game against North Melbourne. 

“One of my big regrets is not meeting Jim,” Tuohy lamented. 

"I had only been in Australia a few years when he died (of terminal cancer) in 2012. The opportunity didn’t arise and I didn’t appreciate his legacy. I wish I had known then what I know now.  

“I have a gift for the family post-game.” 

Tuohy is out of contract at the end of the 2023 season which could be as early as the end of next month if inconsistent Geelong, currently in ninth place on the season ladder, miss out on the opportunity to defend their premiership in September’s finals series. 

Whatever happens he plans to return to Ireland and finish his career in the GAA for Laois. Tuohy never played a senior All-Ireland game for his native county; a gap in his CV that he is determined to fill. 

Read more: Billy Sheehan resigns from role as Laois manager

“I definitely want to play in the AFL for another couple of years,” Tuohy said. 

“In 2007 the Portlaoise club team was getting into gear for prolonged success. I must admit there is a level of guilt, that could I have helped to contribute. It eats away a bit that I never played a Championship game for Laois. 

“I want to play even or a handful of games for Laois and I know to do that my body has to co-operate which so far it is.” 

Tuohy believes the transition from the GAA to the AFL is now more straighforward for young Irish GAA footballers than it was for him 14 years ago. 

“It's considerably easier because AFL clubs understand what motivates Irish guys,” Tuohy said. 

“There are player development officers at every AFL club whose sole job it is to look after players. You can’t believe how AFL good clubs are.”