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The move from St Patrick's Day, facing Maher and Ballyhale's new generation

TJ Reid will be central to the Ballyhale cause again on All-Ireland club final day.

Ballyhale hurling star TJ Reid.
Ballyhale hurling star TJ Reid.
Image: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

HE WILL BID for his fifth All-Ireland senior club hurling medal tomorrow but Kilkenny star TJ Reid would prefer to be playing the game on the traditional St Patrick’s Day slot instead of a January date.

Reid has enjoyed success with Ballyhale Shamrocks in his four appearances in Croke Park club deciders in 2007, 2010, 2015 and 2019.

All those games took place on 17 March but in the first year of a new format Ballyhale will bid to land the Tommy Moore Cup again when they take to the field on a January Sunday.

“If you’re asking me the question would I rather the 19th (of) January or St Patrick’s Day, I’d pick St Patrick’s Day. For me St Patrick’s Day is the grassroots of Ireland. The GAA is the grassroots of Ireland. It’s a unique day and it’s a special day. The GAA is the whole community, it’s the whole connection of the GAA. You’re playing on a day that’s celebrated.

“19th (January), you’re not really focusing on an All-Ireland because usually it’s getting the Christmas out of the way, maybe a few pounds are after creeping up over the Christmas time. Fitness levels probably dipped and January is the time to increase that. Now, you’re still training over Christmas, you’re still getting to the gym over Christmas,

“There’s a different vibe to it. It’s January and it’s an All-Ireland final. You probably sense the same thing, so it is different. But it’s the first year doing it, they’re trying it out, and it might be a success. Who knows? After the final whistle, people will have their opinions then.”

eoin-reid-tj-reid-and-richie-reid-celebrate-after-the-game Eoin, TJ and Richie Reid after last year's All-Ireland senior club final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Reid had no qualms with the long break previously that existed between provincial finals and the All-Ireland semi-final ties in February.

“I liked it. You had that break and then you had your time to relax. We came back on 5th of January last year for our first collective session. That night, there was two or three players getting sick because it was the first night back! And that’s the way it was.

“Then you had a few weeks to get ready. [This year] we came back, we trained on Stephen’s Day and New Years Day, and fitness levels – Stephen’s Day we did a very physical session and everyone was flying it.

“It’s more demanding on players of course. Before you had the time, Leinster final done and dusted, you had your time to enjoy yourself, relax, chill out, and then you’re able to get back in January for a new season.”

This decider also provides novelty in the form of the opposition. It will mark the first time the Kilkenny and Tipperary champions meet in this final, Borris-Ileigh will provide a familiar opponent in their talisman Brendan Maher.

brendan-maher-and-padraic-maher-with-tj-reid Brendan and Padraic Maher in action against TJ Reid in last year's All-Ireland senior hurling final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I’m the forward, and he’s marking me, I’d never focus on my opponent,” says Reid.

“As I said, I’m the forward and the defender is marking me, so my preparation is on myself and getting myself right. I’d never dwell on my opposition because if you’re focusing on who you’re marking, you’re not focusing on yourself, you’re focusing on him. So I go out fully prepared winning my area of the field.”

Ballyhale needed to draw on all their nous to emerge from a testing semi-final against Slaughtneil.

“Newry is a tight field and the crowd is on top of you. People travelled from all over Ulster, it gave great promotion. After the game, the crowds were onto the field getting pictures signed with all the players.

“The pitch was tight as well and the crowd was tight, so that atmosphere was good. It was out of our comfort zone, first time playing up in Newry, up in Ulster. First time playing an Ulster team as well.

“Slaughtneil were very good in their preparation, very good in their tactics on the day. We respect every team we play. We had to do a little bit more homework on them, because we wouldn’t have heard about them or we wouldn’t have seen them as much.

“After the game, as soon as we got onto the bus, we were saying ’Jesus, these lads are very good’. They were excellent. They’d beat most senior teams down in Kilkenny. You can do all the analysis you want, but it’s only when you physically play them, you really know how good they are now.

“We didn’t perform to our potential, But look, our attitude was good on the day. The leaders, experienced players came through on the day.”

Reid hailed the impact of younger players in driving the Ballyhale camp on again in recent seasons. Adrian and Darren Mullen, Evan Shefflin, Brian and Eoin Cody, and Dean Mason have all become integral to their prospects.

eoin-cody-celebrates Eoin Cody celebrates after Ballyhale Shamrocks defeated Slaughtneil. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I was captain in 2015, I’ve a picture of the whole team at home. We’re missing 15 players from 2015. And then it took us a few years to transition which is normal. All those players are gone, the likes of Henry Shefflin, Bob Aylward, Aidan Cummins, Paul Shefflin, David Ryan, Tom Coogan, they were the backbone or the spine of the team, and they’re all gone.

“It does take a few years to get those lads to shine through. Those lads went on, won two U21s as well, so that helped. They got a taste of winning. When they came into us then after gaining that experience, they were getting that taste of success. They came through, then Henry took over, and as I said, we’re after transitioning quite well.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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