Officials need to give TJ Reid more protection - Henry Shefflin
Hurling's top forwards will need more protection from linesmen and umpires who have a better view of what's going on if the trend of dedicated man-marking becomes more common, Kilkenny's 10-time All-Ireland winner Henry Shefflin has predicted.
Speaking at the launch of Centra's All-Ireland Hurling Championship sponsorship at the unusual location of a terraced house on Glasnevin's Mobhi Road, Shefflin, while not speaking specifically about his own club-mate TJ Reid, was talking in the context of Reid's failure to spark over the opening two Leinster round robin championship games in the same way that he did during the league.
Naturally, Dublin and Offaly set up in a way to guard against the game's most lethal forward and Shefflin feels a move into full-forward for Reid could give defences a lot more to think about in the coming weeks.
"I didn't come across it that much, this football tactic of man-marking a player, where you're just standing beside him, pulling him, hugging him, at it constantly," he recalled.
"I think it's just you need more protection from your linesmen and umpires to get away from that. Because if you have a player who doesn't have any interest in the ball, well, for me it's a very hard thing to do because you just want to go back out and play.
"Eoghan O'Donnell did a fabulous job (for Dublin) and hurled very well but his concentration was TJ. If the ball was there he was going for it alright. It is very difficult to play against that."
A move to the inside line could give defences more to think about, he suggested.
"It's something that Brian might look at, maybe putting him into full-forward, getting him away from that because then the defender has a big job to do. 'Am I defending my full-back line and goalkeeper or am I just worried about TJ?' He (the defender) could leave gaping holes.
"It's something he's probably getting used to. But it is going to be a challenge definitely for the championship. Because he's (Reid) such a marked man now."
Shefflin believes with two wins under their belt Kilkenny are now comfortable and can look forward to the play-off element of the championship, whether that's a Leinster final or a game against one of the Joe McDonagh Cup finalists.
And he feels Kilkenny are "in a good place" despite less-than-convincing wins over Dublin and Offaly. Thus the pressure is on Galway to deliver a first championship win over Kilkenny since the 2012 Leinster final, he feels.
"It's in Pearse Stadium, home supporters, their first match, they're All-Ireland champions and we probably haven't seen any statement from them so far this year that they are the top team in hurling.
"That's where the pressure is for them, to deliver on that. I think this game would have been in their sights from last year's draw so, in that sense, pressure is on.
"The back-to-back is very hard to do as well, Tipperary the last couple of times have tried to do it. There is so much focus on it."
Shefflin expects to see Colin Fennelly start his first game of the season in Salthill.
"I'm surprised he didn't start last week but, looking from the outside, it was just to have someone on the bench, that if things were getting sticky they could bring someone in.
"So I'd say he'll be starting. It's a good test for them and Paul (Murphy) and Colin need to start getting these tests so for the knockout stages they'll be ready to go."
After playing a part in an internal match on Monday night, Shefflin also feels Richie Hogan could now play a part on Sunday. But an injury to Walter Walsh could keep him out.
Shefflin was "surprised" by Kilkenny's league title win but wouldn't feel it wasn't greater achievement that their 2015 All-Ireland final success which followed the departure of six experienced players.
"I don't know if winning the league is quite that high up there, compared to winning an All-Ireland championship, like in 2015 when he had so many lads gone. It's definitely high up there but how we place the league compared to an All-Ireland, it's different," he said.
"We are surprised. Being truthful, I wouldn't know the Mossie Keoghans, John Donnellys. You just need to think of the U-21 championship last year.
"You'd have said, 'I don't know would they be ready for senior', so most people in Kilkenny would have been surprised. But marry that with the subtle change in style and the way they used the ball, I think there was a lot of improvements."
Shefflin was critical of Tipperary manager Michael Ryan ahead of Sunday's match against Cork following their defeat by Limerick and feels Tipp should now start players like Brendan Maher, Seamus Callanan and Patrick 'Bonner' Maher.
"I would always try to put your best players on the field and see where it goes from there."