Sunday 16 June 2019

Cyril Farrell: Reid’s value for Cats has never been higher

Ballyhale sniper landing half of team's scores and goalkeeper is outscoring most of Kilkenny's forwards

'Kilkenny's TJ Reid is the main man, relentlessly punishing opposition fouls from all angles and most distances.' Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
'Kilkenny's TJ Reid is the main man, relentlessly punishing opposition fouls from all angles and most distances.' Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

If Kilkenny supporters were told before the start of the championship that Eoin Murphy would be their joint-third top scorer on seven points by early July, they might have feared the worst.

They all know how accurate he is from long-distance frees, but having a goalkeeper so high up the scoring charts after five championship games is new territory. Not that it matters to them, of course.

Kilkenny are still in strong contention for Leinster and All-Ireland honours, so obviously enough scores have been coming from somewhere to keep them going.

TJ Reid is the main man, relentlessly punishing opposition fouls from all angles and most distances, except those relatively close to the Kilkenny goal, which is Murphy's domain.

As the figures show, Reid accounts for around half of their scores these days, which is considerably higher than pre-2017.

prolific It's an interesting shift, raising the question: why is that happening? How can a team do so well when one man is returning so much of their yield?

In Kilkenny's peak years, when they had the best squad in history, they won many of their games by big margins. Indeed, they often had them won by half-time.

Henry Shefflin - and Reid later on - would point frees all day long, but with the likes of Eddie Brennan, Eoin Larkin, Richie Power, Richie Hogan, Aidan Fogarty and many other others also contributing handsomely from open play, the ratio between scores from frees and play was wider than it is now.

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Of course, it doesn't matter where the scores come from. Take Walter Walsh, who hasn't been especially prolific this summer, scoring 1-4 in four games. However, many of Reid's pointed frees were the result of him being fouled.

The same goes for some of the other forwards. Their work-rate is exceptional so they manage to put defences under enough pressure to force frees. Reid (mostly) and Murphy do the rest.

Obviously, you want your forwards scoring as much as possible from play but, it's not crucial if they are winning frees and you have a TJ Reid on duty. He did it from play last Sunday too, with that booming equaliser from somewhere out on the Clonliffe Road sending the Leinster final to a replay.

It handed Kilkenny a welcome reprieve, but when Galway analysed the game, they would also have felt a huge sense of relief. They had heard the loudest wake-up call, something they may have needed after listening to people telling them for months how good they were.

And they are very good, but only when they perform as they can. Many of them - especially those with jersey numbers higher than seven - will know that they didn't deliver at anywhere near full efficiency last Sunday.

It's as if they were waiting for nice ball to come along instead of running into dark, dangerous territory, risking life and limb to get it. That can happen when a team has had a relatively easy run. They expect things to happen, rather than making them happen.

Galway enjoyed a largely trouble-free route to the final, whereas Kilkenny were involved in a few real struggles. It stood to them last Sunday, helping to establish an early tempo which seemed to catch Galway by surprise. Pádraig Walsh's spectacular catches set the tone for a gruelling battle, where defences were very much on top.

Walsh and his opposite number, Galway full-back Dáithí Burke, were the two best players on the pitch, which is unusual in the modern game.

Micheál Donoghue would have been surprised and disappointed with the manner in which Walsh was allowed make those high catches. For a player to do that, he must be properly anchored under the dropping ball so it's up to the opponent to make sure he isn't.

Take his space, don't let him set, do whatever it takes to make sure that he can't make a spectacular leap. Colleagues are inspired by high fetching, which was certainly the case with Kilkenny last Sunday.

Galway had their high fielders too, so Brian Cody will be preaching the same message as Donoghue - don't let them get set under the ball. Easier said than done, but it's an area both sides will be targeting.

Galway will feel that there's a lot more in them. They certainly didn't come close to reaching the levels that won the All-Ireland last year and while Kilkenny's non-stop pressure played a big part, there was more to it than that.

Several Galway players were off with their first touch and another area where they struggled was in man-on-man clashes.

They didn't take on an opponent nearly often enough, which you have to do to unhinge a defence. I doubt after listening to management all week if that will happen again.

They looked like a team that badly needed a severe test and, having got it, they should be much more tuned in tomorrow.

Doubts They will need to be because Kilkenny will improve too. Their confidence is always high but after losing by eight points to Galway in late May, they would have had some doubts going into last Sunday's game.

Those have been dispelled so there will be nothing between the teams in terms of self-belief.

The difference, I believe, will come if Galway move their game up towards the levels they know are in them They have more room for improvement than Kilkenny but that will only count if they make it happen.

Given that they scored the last three points to draw the game last Sunday, it's likely that Kilkenny would have won if they had gotten another minute or two. Galway were that close to having their winning run ended so they have been warned.

I expect them to correct enough of the small problems that hindered them last Sunday and join Cork in the All-Ireland semi-finals.

* * * * *

Wexford and Limerick have had good breaks since dropping out of the provincial championships and I'm sure they were put to good use by Davy Fitzgerald and John Kiely.

With the slightest of tweaks in the result sequences, both counties could have been in the finals so they are still very strong contenders in the All-Ireland race.

They resume this evening and while Carlow and Westmeath will relish the challenge against higher-ranked opposition, it's asking too much to expect either to pull off a massive surprise.

Having won the Joe McDonagh Cup and promotion to next year's Leinster Championship, Carlow are in a great frame of mind for the visit of Limerick to Dr Cullen Park. It will give them a taste of what to expect next year, although obviously that won't be on their minds this evening.

They will offer Limerick a decent test but may not be able to sustain it for the full 70 minutes. The same goes for Westmeath against Wexford in Mullingar.

* * * * *

I was in Portlaoise last Wednesday for the Galway-Wexford Leinster U-21 final, which is now a solid contender for 'Game of the Year.'

From an overall perspective, the most pleasing thing of all was the exceptionally high standard. They are making them good in Galway and Wexford these days.

I wish I could say the same about referees and umpires. Galway goalkeeper éanna Murphy was twice penalised for being outside the small square with puck-outs.

I thought his momentum was carrying him out after the ball was hit but that's a matter of opinion so let's give the benefit of the doubt to the officials.

But here's the annoying thing. If Murphy was in the wrong then so is every senior goalkeeper. Yet, they are rarely penalised. Why the different standards?

It's like the World Cup, where goalkeepers can dash off their lines on penalties but if their younger counterparts do it, they are pounced on. Whatever the game, the same rules should apply to all.

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