'Kilkenny are back at top speed' insists star TJ Reid
Kilkenny star TJ Reid has hailed defensive veterans Jackie Tyrrell and JJ Delaney after their performance in last Sunday's Leinster final win over Dublin.
The pair have been totems in the Kilkenny defence for over a decade but after the Cats' unusually short summer last year when they didn't play in Croke Park, some believed their time at the top was over.
However, Reid pointed to their superb performance last weekend and believes they still have more to give to the Kilkenny cause as they prepare for an All-Ireland semi-final.
"Those question marks were there because of their age; (critics) weren't looking at their hurling ability at all," said Reid.
"Jackie is one of the strongest and fittest around the country and you won't beat him easily, and JJ will beat you on a low ball or high ball and he certainly hasn't lost his pace.
"People were asking if they would last the 70 minutes out in Croke Park and they answered those questions fairly quickly. Those boys are dedicated to the game and they are fit and fast and in four weeks' time they will be flying in Croke Park again."
Along with the good form of Delaney and Tyrrell, Reid is also back to his best. The Ballyhale Shamrocks man, in Croke Park yesterday to collect his Opel Hurler of the Month award, sustained a broken kneecap in the 2012 All-Ireland final replay win over Galway.
And he senses a hunger within the panel to right the wrongs of last year.
"I broke my kneecap which was disappointing for myself. I didn't run for six, seven months of the year so it was a lot of hard work. The fitness, the speed and the touch is back. It takes a good year to set right.
"Any player knows if they underperform. You always say to yourself, 'yeah, I'm happy', or 'Jeez, I didn't do too well'. Last year we weren't scoring goals. There was a lot of lads injured as well and coming back half-fit for the games.
"You're not going to be going 100pc when you are half-injured and we have seen the difference this year with everyone 100pc. Last year we were probably in fourth gear. This year we are in sixth gear and you have probably seen that difference."
The comprehensive dismissal of Dublin last weekend, combined with their league success, backs up Reid's assertion that the Cats are back to their best and he believes they'll improve between now and their All-Ireland semi-final.
"Sunday wasn't really an entertaining game but we did enough to win. We have four weeks to do physical work and in the last three weeks we hadn't really had that chance.
"We have four weeks now to maybe do speed work to get ourselves flying again. We have mixed experience with youth and that has changed things this year.
"We hadn't won (Leinster) since 2011 and we didn't get to Croke Park last year so there was a lot of soul-searching, a lot of heads down. We're very grateful that we have the Bob O'Keeffe at home again.
"We let ourselves down last year. We let our supporters down, but the person who knows the most is yourself.
"Last year totally didn't go our way. This year there is a lot of work and just a different attitude. The hunger is back. Like a good champion you always come back the year after fighting harder."