Reid on a roll as the Ballyhale boys bid to oust Crokes
DUBLIN hurling champions Kilmacud Crokes face formidable opposition when Ballyhale Shamrocks come to Parnell Park tomorrow afternoon for the Leinster club semi-final.
Crokes may have home advantage, but they are the underdogs against a Henry Shefflin-inspired Ballyhale outfit.
The Shamrocks overcame Clara in the county final last Sunday to win the club's 15th Noreside title at senior level, with their previous victory having come in 2012.
Kilmacud's task is not made any easier by the hunger shown in the Ballyhale ranks, not least by skipper TJ Reid who celebrated his 27th birthday on the same day as last weekend's final by lifting the Tom Walsh Cup on behalf of his club-mates.
Reid is arguably at his peak, and received rave notices for his display, which follows on a consistent run of fine performances this season.
Former Dublin hurling manager Humphrey Kelleher expects a strong performance from Crokes, but finds it difficult to predict anything other than a win for Shamrocks.
"For me, they just have too many class players.
"Most teams have very good backs and midfielders, but very few would have the quality of forwards that Ballyhale would have, with Henry, obviously, and TJ Reid who's having a great year.
"I had the privilege of watching TJ at very close quarters when I was with the Leinster hurling team earlier this year, and I could see the amount of strength and power that man has.
"He's one of the most under-rated players in the country. No airs or graces about him. He just goes quietly about his business and he delivers consistently," said Kelleher.
Ollie Baker's Crokes have earned their right to a place in the last four the hard way.
The Stillorgan side were taken to extra time before beating St Jude's in the Dublin final, and again went past the regulation hour to emerge with a 0-23 to 0-22 verdict over Rathdowney of Laois on November 2.
In-form sharpshooter Sean McGrath scored 0-15 of that tally, all but one from placed balls, and therein lies a challenge for Crokes.
"It's hit and miss with Kilmacud. They can play some great hurling, but there's a huge reliance on Sean McGrath and if you analyse most of the scores they've got, a lot have been from frees.
"They don't have a consistent full forward line. They seem to be chopping and changing a fair bit. I appreciate they've got Ryan O'Dwyer in the forwards, but I think the Kilkenny lads know how to bottle him up and keep tabs on him.
"There could be an issue there too, that if Ryan doesn't perform, the team doesn't do well either," said Kelleher.
Recent heavy rainfall in the Dublin area could leave the Parnell Park surface quite soft and liable to cut up.
"By Sunday the pitch could become a quagmire, so the first touch is going to be a huge factor in terms of getting the ball into the hand first time.
"But that type of soft terrain also requires good ground hurling, and that's something which could also suit Ballyhale more than Kilmacud, " he said.