Born in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, Roche first excelled at hurling in his youth. He arrived on the inter-county scene at the age of seventeen when he first linked up with the Tipperary minor team before later joining the under-21 and intermediate sides. He joined the senior panel during the 1963 championship. Roche went on to play a key part for Tipperary during a hugely successful era for the team, and won three All-Ireland medals, five Munster medals and three National Hurling League medals. He was an All-Ireland runner-up on two occasions.
Throughout his career Roche made 27 championship appearances. His retirement came following the conclusion of the 1974 championship.
Roche is widely regarded as one of Tipperary's all-time greatest players. During his playing days he won one All-Star award, while he was later chosen as one of the 125 greatest hurlers of all-time in a 2009 poll.
Roche played his club hurling with the Carrick Davins club in Tipperary. He enjoyed some success with the club in the mid-1960s, winning back-to-back senior county championship titles in 1966 and 1967. These were the club’s first and, to date, only county titles.
In 1961 Roche tasted his first major success when he won Munster and All-Ireland titles with the Tipperary minor team. Three years later he won Munster and All-Ireland medals in the inaugural year of the under-21 series of games.
By 1964 Roche was also a member of the Tipperary senior inter-county team. That year he won his first senior Munster title following a huge win over Cork. Roche later captured his first senior All-Ireland medal following a win over the red-hot favourites Kilkenny. In 1965 he won a second Munster medal before subsequently capturing his second All-Ireland title following a comfortable win over Wexford. Two years later in 1967 Roche was captain of the Tipp senior team. That year he guided his native-county to another provincial title, however, his side were defeated by Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final. Roche was captain again in 1968 when he won his fourth Munster title, however, Tipp were beaten in the All-Ireland final for a second year in-a-row. In 1971 he added a fifth provincial medal to his collection before winning his third All-Ireland medal following a classic game against Kilkenny.