Friday 20 September 2019

Tipp talisman v Top Cat: How Hurler of the Year candidates Callanan and Reid compare

Their careers have been intertwined for more than a decade - but tomorrow's showdown is a special battle

Tipperary's Séamus Callanan. Photo: Sportsfile
Tipperary's Séamus Callanan. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Since they made their debuts in the summer of 2008, the careers of Seamus Callanan and TJ Reid have run parallel. And tomorrow will be the seventh time the pair have met in All-Ireland finals (including the replay in 2014) with Reid (31) coming out on top in six and two going Callanan's (30) way.

They are both at the top of their game just now and the top two in the betting for the Hurler of the Year. Reid is the championship's top scorer overall, while Callanan tops the 'from play' chart. But despite their lavish talents, it hasn't always been plain sailing for either man.

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Callanan won a minor medal under Sheedy in 2006, but he was a sub and only came on when Tipp had the job done. Just two years later, Sheedy handed him his senior debut but he had to bide his time.

He started the 2010 final on the bench and though he was sprung to good effect that day, he couldn't maintain that form. In what must have been a hammer blow for his confidence, the Drom and Inch man started the 2011 All-Ireland final but didn't come out for the second half.

In 2012, he barely featured and by the time Tipp crashed out of the championship in 2013 to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park, he was back on the bench, only being sprung when Lar Corbett's hamstring failed him.

However, Tipp backed their man and handed him the frees and Callanan's confidence returned. In the 2016 final, he was unplayable as he hit 0-9 from play on the way to his second Celtic Cross.

Although Reid was a lauded talent coming through the ranks, he didn't have it all his own way either. He came up when Kilkenny were in the midst of their greatest era and despite his obvious talents, had to wait for his chance.

Kilkenny won All-Irelands in his first two seasons but Reid didn't complete 70 minutes of championship hurling until the Leinster final of 2010 and didn't start an All-Ireland final until later that when they lost to Tipp.

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When they reclaimed Liam MacCarthy in 2011, Reid began that game on the bench. It would be on his fifth attempt in 2012 that he'd start on a winning team in an All-Ireland final by which stage he was almost 25.

That year had its own difficulties. The Ballyhale man was dropped after the Leinster final defeat to Galway and admitted that he nearly walked away from the game at that point.

Since then, Reid has established himself as one of the modern-day greats. A Hurler of the Year winner in 2015, some of his performances this year have led to comparisons with his clubmate Henry Shefflin.

Jackie Tyrrell believes those comparisons are fair: "He had a great role model in Henry," Tyrrell said. "Henry could do anything with it but Henry would die, he would work, work, work for the team and eventually TJ came around to that way of thinking. Then he just took off and in '09, '10 and '11 he started to come into the team and be more prevalent. He really bought into the whole nutrition and the strength and conditioning side and he's in unbelievable shape.

"So it's been a spiralling, a snowball growing and growing and growing and if Kilkenny win and TJ captains and it's a decent game, once Seamus Callanan doesn't run riot, he's going to win a second Hurler of the Year and for me he moves into the space with Shefflin as two of the all-time hurling greats in Kilkenny."

Whoever can wield the most influence on the game tomorrow under each player's key criteria will go a long way towards deciding where Liam MacCarthy spends the winter

Aerial ability

While there is no doubting the skill levels of Reid, who was once described by Michael Fennelly as a "wizard with a hurl", he's also a huge ball-winner for the Cats. Playing out around the half-forward line, Reid is a key target from puck-outs for Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy and he has gathered 38 directly from the Cats' goalkeeper, with nine clean catches in the Galway game alone. Reid has also won 11 contested catches so far this year.

Both of those numbers far outstrip Callanan's, but that's not to say the Tipp man can't hold his own in the air. Cast your mind back to the disallowed Jake Morris goal in the All-Ireland semi-final when he went toe-to-toe with Liam Ryan to help set up his young team mate.

He has come for puck-outs on six occasion from Tipp netminder Brian Hogan and won one contested catch, although the Tipp camp would surely argue that if the players further out the field are doing their job correctly and providing him with the right service, Callanan should be getting the ball in space.

Score-taking

Both men weigh in heavily in the scoring stakes for their sides. When the totals are looked at, Reid is way out in front of Callanan, but 2-61 of his 5-72 championship total in 2019 has come from placed balls. Reid inherited free-taking duties from Shefflin while Callanan was Tipp's dead ball man for the last few seasons, a time that coincided with the best form of his career. However, after splitting those duties in the league with Jason Forde, the Silvermines man has taken all the frees in this championship.

Reid is left-handed while Callanan prefers his right; however, the Kilkenny man seems to be the more comfortable off both sides, with his scores being split 50-50 off his right and left side. Callanan has taken 70 per cent of his scores from his right side. According to the numbers supplied by Sure, the official statistics partner of the GAA, there is little to choose between shot efficiency from play with Reid coming in at 64 per cent and Callanan at 68 per cent. Both men prefer to shoot from inside the 65-metre line and they have attempted just one score from beyond that range this term, with both men's efforts tailing wide. However, the Tipp man has a clear edge in scoring goals this term with one in each of his seven championship games.

Reid, who operates further out, has managed three from play. From play, Callanan has averaged 5.3 points per game with Reid coming in at 2.9.

Work-Rate

This week, Jackie Tyrrell stated that Reid's early struggles to get into the Kilkenny team had less to do with his ability than application and, speaking in 2016, Reid acknowledged as much himself. "Nutrition and conditioning helps anyone," he said. "I said to myself a few years ago that my hurling was there and my ability to hurl was there but mentally and physically maybe I wasn't there."

Gym owner Reid has undergone a physical transformation in recent years. He produced three turnovers this year in the championship and has made another three hooks as he weighs into the middle-third war zone.

Operating in that busy part of the field also means he's been turned over six times, no doubt a result of the special attention he receives from opposition.

Callanan spends more time closer to goal. Liam Sheedy has always insisted that effort was a minimum requirement to be part of his team.

And while Callanan's chief job is providing the scores, he has produced five hooks and blocks in seven games and one turnover, demonstrating how, under Sheedy, defence starts in the full-forward line.

Callanan's former Tipp team-mate Paul Curran told a story about how he'd once fancied marking the Drom and Inch man in training and in club games but that soon changed.

"Once he started working in the gym, building himself up, it really hit home to me that he was a different animal in 2014. With his size, he'd become intimidating."

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