Wednesday 18 September 2019

Martin Breheny: 'TJ advancing towards Cats' list of all-time superstars'

Reid had some frustrating years but is now the main influence in their latest bid for glory

Top Cats: Kilkenny's TJ Reid (pictured) holds his own amongst Cats legends Henry Shefflin, DJ Carey and Eddie Keher. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Top Cats: Kilkenny's TJ Reid (pictured) holds his own amongst Cats legends Henry Shefflin, DJ Carey and Eddie Keher. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Unless he pens an autobiography when his playing days are over, we will never know if TJ Reid had prepared a speech worthy of a history-making occasion.

His Ballyhale Shamrocks clubmates, Henry Shefflin, James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick and Michael Fennelly had captained Kilkenny in the second, third and fourth legs of the All-Ireland four-in-row in 2007-08-09, so a year later it was Reid's turn to lead them towards a peak which had never previously been conquered.

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Henry Shefflin. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Henry Shefflin. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

They got so close that they could visualise the black-and-amber flag fluttering on the summit, only to be sent hurtling back down the unforgiving slopes by an avalanche of Tipperary goals.

Reid finished the game on the bench, having been taken off just past the hour mark, despite scoring three points from play and one from a sideline.

It was deeply frustrating for him, but then he had a close relationship with the subs' seats, having spent much of the previous two years there. And that wasn't the end of it either.

The same in-out pattern continued in 2011 and 2012, eventually reaching a stage where, according to Henry Shefflin, he had decided to quit.

DJ Carey. Photo: Damien Eagers / SPORTSFILE
DJ Carey. Photo: Damien Eagers / SPORTSFILE

It happened after the 2012 Leinster final where Kilkenny were demolished by Galway. After being omitted from the starting 15 for the All-Ireland quarter-final clash with Limerick, Reid told Shefflin he was leaving.

Shefflin recalled in his book how frustrated Reid had felt.

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"I'm giving it up. I'm finished with this," he said. Walking out on Kilkenny at the age of 24 would have been quite a call, but Reid was so exasperated that he considered it.

Shefflin advised him not to do anything hasty and later heard that Reid had 'a fairly frank phone call,' with selector Martin Fogarty (presumably he felt it advisable not to unload his ire on manager Brian Cody).

Eddie Keher. Photo: Connolly Collection / SPORTSFILE
Eddie Keher. Photo: Connolly Collection / SPORTSFILE

Reid stayed aboard, made a big impact after coming on as a sub against Limerick, was on the starting team in the All-Ireland semi-final and final (which Kilkenny won) and ended the year as an All-Star.

It's difficult to equate the uncertainty of the early years (he made his championship debut in 2008) with the authoritative role Reid has filled for the past five or six seasons.

Indeed, his stock has risen so spectacularly that he holds genuine claims to be regarded among Kilkenny's great all-time forwards. That's quite an illustrious list, with Shefflin, DJ Carey and Eddie Keher in the leading group, but his name is certainly at home among them.

Hurler of the Year in 2015 and favourite to win it again this year, Reid's influence on Kilkenny extends across a wide range of areas these days. That has been well-proven this year, not least by the difference in their level of performance in the National League, which he missed, compared with the championship.

Granted, the unavailability of Reid's Ballyhale colleagues, Colin Fennelly, Joey Holden and Adrian Mullen, as they successfully pursued All-Ireland club glory, also weakened Kilkenny, but it was the absence of his leadership in attack which added the biggest handicap.

Most unusually for Kilkenny, they won only two of six league games. Kevin Kelly, Austin Murphy, Richie Leahy and Richie Hogan were on free-taking duties, but Reid took over on his return for the championship.

Indeed, his accuracy from placed balls will have been high on Liam Sheedy's planning agenda over the last 10 days. Jason Forde has been equally reliable for Tipperary, but they haven't banked on placed balls as much as Kilkenny.

Reid has posted 35 per cent of Kilkenny's total score in seven games via that route, compared with 21 per cent for Tipp. In many cases, Reid won the frees, which he pointed. And when his return from play is taken into account, he has contributed 46 per cent of Kilkenny's total.

Spread

That's high-dependency for Kilkenny, whereas Tipperary have had a much wider spread of scorers, led by Séamus Callanan on 7-16, Noel McGrath on 1-19, John McGrath on 2-15 and John O'Dwyer on 0-17.

Reid's importance was perfectly illustrated against Limerick when, despite not scoring from play, he gave a man-of-the-match display. His touch, game-reading, work-rate and leadership were akin to what Shefflin brought to the team in his peak years.

Shefflin was, of course, a big influence on his young clubmate from the days when Reid would jump off the bus on his way home from St Kieran's to collect balls struck by the maestro during free-taking practice. He learned well.

Now the big question is whether nine years after captaining Kilkenny in an All-Ireland defeat, he leads them to the county's 37th All-Ireland.

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