TJ Reid - 'Everyone was looking for a piece of me, I wouldn't let it happen again'
Kilkenny ace TJ Reid facing fresh challenges on and off the pitch but motivated to keep driving Cats forward
AS TJ Reid surveys his state of the art 10,000 square foot Health and Fitness club in Kilkenny city, he marvels at how his new career is a safe haven from hurling talk which leaves him feeling "free and in control".
After working as a sales representative with Connolly's Red Mills, there was no getting away from the small ball with farmers quick to give their two cents on Kilkenny and "bursting your bubble" in a second's notice.
The recognition of 2015 Hurler of the Year also came with increasing demands on his time as he regularly fell under the spotlight and the Cats ace found himself pulled in different directions with such distractions gradually taking his eye off the prize.
"Everyone wanted you for this or that, I was up in Croke Park more times than I should have been. It's hard to say no to everyone but that becomes a feature of being Hurler of the Year and you try not to let that sink in," Reid remarks.
Would he deal with it differently if the same situation arose again?
"Yeah, I'd tell them to f*** off," the seven-time All-Ireland winner says matter of factly. "Everyone is supposed to be nice to you and everyone wanted you, the media are your best friends when they want stuff out of you and as soon as your performance dips, they're the first people to cut the back off you.
"That's the nature of the game, you learn from it and you know the next time. It's a fantastic achievement but it does open your eyes when people want you for this or that but if it happens again I know what I'll be doing."
Last year was disappointing, both personally and collectively, with the three-time All-Star often man-marked by opposition to negate his influence as Kilkenny's vice-like grip on Liam MacCarthy slipped. And the harder he tried, the harder it became.
"Could I or should I have brought in Mick Dempsey's (Kilkenny fitness coach) 'less is more' approach and tapered back? I tried but I could've forced my performance last year and I didn't reach the standards from the year before. Sometimes the harder you go the worse you get," he says.
Another factor at play during 2016 was a radical career change. Farming is part and parcel of Reid's life - he breeds his own Limousin cattle on the family farm in Ballyhale - and he had considered investing heavily in the Lely robotic milking system.
Property was another "crazy" brainwave but when going through his exercise routine in their custom-built training suite in Nowlan Park, the 29-year-old's thoughts switched to the possibility of providing a similar facility, but on a larger scale, to the Kilkenny public.
Nothing of its kind existed and when a location next door to the Red Mills base in Cillin Hill sprung to mind, he went into overdrive. When permission was sought and granted to start the development, it engrossed his thoughts but it also began to take a mental toll.
"Did it upset my performance last year? It's hard to know, I can't put it down to that, it's a big juggle. When you're in a routine you know what you're doing on a day-to-day basis and then when you take yourself outside of that you get lost.
"There were nights I was going to bed and I couldn't sleep, I was stressed thinking about the gym driving down the road working, I was thinking about it at home. It put an awful lot of stress on me, it's a big undertaking but I believed in it."
Earlier this week, team-mate Richie Hogan detailed how he gave up full-time employment as a primary school teacher to devote all of his time to hurling with the Cats but Reid decided to go in the opposite way and encourages others unhappy in their careers to take the bull by the horns and chase their dreams.
"I see a lot of people putting their life on hold. You don't have to have all the certifications in the world to become a business person, I certainly don't have them but I had a product that I knew would succeed and was determined to make it a reality. I didn't want to put it on hold because I'm playing for Kilkenny," he says.
"I haven't a mortgage, I haven't a wife and kids yet so it was now or never. When you retire at 33 or 34, you have a big mortgage and maybe a wife and kids and it's too late. You wouldn't be able to do it. A lot of players do put their life on hold because 'I'm an inter-county hurler, oh I'll do it after'. I said 'no, the time is now.'"
"Last year people were telling me 'you're crazy, you're cracked, wait till you finish' so I said 'no, I'm doing it' and I'd encourage anyone that if you're not happy in a job and you've something else in your head, go about it. Life is short and you only get one chance to live it so put as much effort into it as possible."
Training aside, Reid is in the gym all day every day and is "loving it" as they celebrate four months of business which has already witnessed esteemed Olympians like American hurdler David Oliver, Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic and British hurdler Will Sharman making use of his all-encompassing facility.
With his name above the door, he doesn't lack motivation to get to work every morning and has no excuse not to maintain his own conditioning. But was the chiselled Ballyhale Shamrocks attacker always a health-conscious, fitness fanatic growing up?
"Oh God no, I used to be a chubby little child because I used to eat three dinners a day," he jokes.
He always felt he had the touches, the quick hands and the deadly accuracy but it was only when he started wearing the black and amber, facing man mountains like Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and Diarmuid O'Sullivan, that he realised a physical transformation was necessary.
Mick Dempsey has often tried to curb his gym habits but it's a winning formula for Reid.
"Mick thinks less is better, I'm the opposite. If I went to the gym for half an hour I wouldn't think it was satisfying, I need to spend an hour and a half there and if I feel that I'm not after sweating and getting up my heart-rate, I'd have to do more.
"I'd go to the gym the night before a game, doing flexibility and a light bit of upper body weights. I get a rub, a shower and then I go to mass and go home. I feel fresher because I'm after loosening out and I feel strong. It just works for me."
Having grown up in "a dressing-room full of legends" and been part of one of the most dominant squads ever to play hurling, Reid has learned some valuable lessons about the persistence needed to succeed and stay at the top as 11-time All-Ireland-winning manager Brian Cody steers the Kilkenny ship.
"Brian sets the standards, if he sees anything slacking or anything that's not being done properly he'll let us know. There were no egos on that team.
"If you scored one point or ten points it didn't make a difference, it was just severe work-rate and everyone on the field working for each other. That's what Brian built his reputation on and that's what he drives into us now," he says.
Having firmly established himself as one of the mainstays of the current crop, it's crazy to think the free-scoring forward almost walked away from the inter-county game five years ago as he grew disillusioned in his attempts to nail down a starting berth.
Reid's career was on the line when they played Limerick, who they meet in Nowlan Park tonight in a do-or-die Qualifier, in 2012 but after discussing his position separately with club-mate Henry Shefflin and Cody and deciding to stick it out, he came off the bench to make a huge impact and just two months later he was picking up an All-Ireland medal, quickly followed by a first All-Star.
Question marks hovered over Kilkenny at that time and they delivered their best when it mattered most but more than any other time in Cody's 19 years in charge, people are debating whether they still have the raw materials to deliver success.
A shock Leinster semi-final defeat to Wexford reverberated around the hurling world with the manner of the reversal leaving many pondering whether Cody's remarkable Cats had finally run out of lives.
With players like Reid at their disposal it's a dangerous assumption to make and if the past has thought us anything, it's that a wounded Cat can still sink its claw in deep and leave their mark on the championship, as Limerick know all too well.