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'No matter where we turned there was talk of a transition' - Reid

TJ Reid at the launch the GAA Super Games Centre in partnership with Sky Sports at Castlecomer Community School. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
TJ Reid at the launch the GAA Super Games Centre in partnership with Sky Sports at Castlecomer Community School. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

There were times during this year's league campaign when TJ Reid almost picked Kilkenny up on his back and refused to accept defeat.

Few have reached the consistency he has produced in black and amber with former team-mate Eoin Larkin quick to make favourable comparisons between Reid and ten-time All-Ireland winner Henry Shefflin earlier this week.

Given Shefflin's finest hour came in their drawn 2012 All-Ireland SHC final with Galway when he dragged his side to the finishing line in the face of a maroon tide, it's easy to see why.

His league tally of 1-81 in just over six games - he was a second-half substitute against Cork and missed the Clare clash (they lost both) - is mind-boggling but the 2015 Hurler of the Year is much more than a score-getter.

Leading a bunch of relative rookies to league success against Tipperary last Sunday by sheer defiance is as notable an achievement as any of his seven All-Irelands and the idea of being compared to his Ballyhale Shamrocks club-mate Shefflin even sits easier on his shoulders despite some resistance.

"I'll never be Henry Shefflin, he's the king of hurling," Reid said two years ago. In the convening period - and in the absence of Richie Hogan - Reid has filled the mantle left by 'King Henry' as his game soars to new highs.

Pressure

"It's great to be there up there with Henry, obviously he was my idol that I tried to mimic him as much as I could. Look, I'm not Henry Shefflin, I'm my own player, I'm very different than Henry," Reid said at the launch of the GAA Super Games Centre in partnership with Sky Sports yesterday.

"I'm just performing and leading my team as best as I can. There's no pressure. I'm just going out enjoying my game and doing what I do best and that's hurling. And that's about winning ball, winning dirty ball and that's what I'm about.

"It's obviously nice to hear those things and it's nice to sense that and know that you're doing something right. It does help your confidence as well when you do hear people talking like that but look, you put that to bed fairly quickly because you're only as good as your last game."

Attention quickly turns to Shefflin's first competitive game in charge of Ballyhale this weekend against Erin's Own but for 30-year-old Reid, reflecting back on last weekend's triumph gives him great satisfaction.

Neither Reid nor Brian Cody - who collected his 20th national title as Cats boss - will go into too much detail about how the critics branded them a beaten docket after a dismal 2017 but you sense the negativity grains him.

"There was a lot of negativity with us. I suppose by yourselves (journalists). A lot of self-belief questioned in this Kilkenny team and questioned players and whatnot. You know, no matter where we turned last year, be it papers, talking to people off the field, that was the talk, 'Kilkenny are in transition and it's going to take two or three years to come back'," Reid said.

"You can try and block all that out but it does creep in. Maybe last year the belief maybe wasn't there because… we were competing okay but as you saw in the last few games, that's where that belief comes in where you put teams to bed, that's where that belief stands up.

"That wasn't there last year. And probably the inner belief wasn't there. Players not believing in themselves and players maybe not believing that they can compete. Last year we were on the rocks. We are just competing each week now at our best and we are trying to put our best foot forward.

"My motivation was to get back winning because we haven't won in two years. For a Kilkenny jersey not to win anything in two years, if you're not motivated then there's something seriously wrong."

Cody has always had high expectations for his sharpshooting attacker but the only one with higher standards is Reid himself. Having opened his own gym in Kilkenny city - TJ Reid Health and Fitness - life could have started to lean a lot more in the direction of his career but the former sales representative refused to conform to that notion.

"I've had great years with Kilkenny and winning, I suppose that's what it's all about, winning. When you lose, I suppose, for Kilkenny we don't like it. For me, I could have easily said, 'We're gone now, I'm 30 years of age, I'll concentrate on my business,' but I didn't.

"I want to get back to winning ways with this Kilkenny team. There's a new group of players coming through but a great bunch of lads there, great manager over us as well. It's about just going out there and leading from the top."

Reid lauds the performances of youngsters like Martin 'Mossy' Keoghan and Conor Delaney among others and feels they can "drive off" after their league success but one of the most noticeable aspects of the current crop is a change of style which is "coming from the top".

Gone are the ballooned clearances with a more measured possession-based approach and a packed middle third. Reid admits they were slow to adapt to hurling's changing demands and got left behind last season as a result. There is "no whiteboard of tactics" held up by Cody, however, with the three-time All-Star feeling that tactical changes are exaggerated.

Possession

"If we want to play possession games or play sweepers we will beat any team at that because we have talented players that can throw the ball left right and back, whatever way you want. We can make the ball talk," he said matter-of-factly.

"That wasn't the way Kilkenny was. Going back to Tipperary at the weekend, long ball into Walter Welsh, that was what we were good it, it was that long ball. I suppose we are mixing it up but we kind of had to in a way, but it's not something that we are trying now.

"We are not spending hours and hours working on drills, or there is no hundred cones out before training and playing tactics or what's where. We are just using our heads better. Players are looking up and not just getting the ball and lashing it down the field."

Irish Independent

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