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Bryan Keane/INPHO TJ Reid and Henry Shefflin before Ballyhale played in the All-Ireland club final in January
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'I think next year, we may see Henry involved' - Reid backs Shefflin for management return
TJ Reid on changes in Ballyhale, no concerns over return to hurling and reopening his business after the lockdown.

FOUR DAYS AFTER Ballyhale Shamrocks had once again been crowned the club hurling kings of Ireland in January, their leader announced his decision to move on.

Henry Shefflin departed after a run of extraordinary success as manager of the Kilkenny powerhouse in picking up six titles, shared equally between the county, provincial and national stages.

The revelation didn’t catch star forward TJ Reid off guard and he does not expect the legendary figure to be absent from the game for long.

“I’d be friendly with Henry. I kind of knew after the club All-Ireland. We had a few drinks after it and he kind of whispered into my ear that he was stepping aside. It was not hard to take, in sport, managers and selectors come and go. He was a big leader there and so was Tommy Shefflin, Patrick Phelan and Richie O’Neill. It takes a whole group of people to steer a ship.

“He retired from Ballyhale at 38 and it was straight into management then so I think it was just to take a break, spend a bit of time with his wife Deirdre and the five kids. I think next year, we may see Henry involved in some shape or form, be it with club or county. I think that’s the way he wants to go. The last two years with the club, I think he just wanted to get into that role, see did he like it, get an experience of it. He’ll probably move onto a new goal then.”

aib-the-toughest-summer-tj-reid David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE TJ Reid at the launch of AIB's The Toughest Summer David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

That inevitably sparks talk of the prospect of Shefflin filling the Kilkenny hotseat in the future. It’s a topic for another day in Reid’s eyes given the prowess of the incumbent and the quality of emerging managers from the county.

“You’d have to ask Brian Cody that. Ah sure look you don’t know. Eddie Brennan is doing a great job in Laois. There will be plenty of people chomping at the bit to take over Kilkenny but there’s no point in even talking about that because it’s only ifs and buts.

“I’m sure when Brian does make his decision to step away, the county board will have a candidate picked – could be Henry, Derek Lyng, James McGarry, DJ – these lads. That’s next year or the year after or whatever. Brian is still eager and he’s willing to go.”

Ballyhale will slip back into Kilkenny club action next week when they meet Tullaroan, themselves fresh from an All-Ireland triumph at the start of the year, on Friday 31 July.

They have a change in manager with James O’Connor installed as their supremo. He takes over the All-Ireland kingpins after building up an impressive CV with his work at club level in Cork and Waterford. Reid reports positive opening progress with recent challenge matches against Cork’s Glen Rovers and Kiladangan from Tipperary.

But it is in the early stages of a relationship that has been delayed in forming with Covid-19 enforced shutdown. Ballyhale are adjusting to the return of hurling yet Reid is adamant that he is not concerned going back to playing competitive hurling during the pandemic.

ballyhale-players-celebrate-after-the-game Bryan Keane / INPHO Ballyhale players celebrate after their win over Borris-Ileigh in January Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

“There’s no concerns, if you don’t feel comfortable going into an environment, just put up your hand and say no but for me I’m very confident going back, I’m very comfortable meeting people. Obviously yeah you’ve to be responsible and have your social distancing in place and do as best you can.

“At times you forget about the two-metre rule, you might be standing close to a person a few times but then you realise okay you step back. So I think common sense is a big thing and if you can use your common sense during this whole pandemic it’ll go a long way and be responsible for your actions. I’m very confident. In Ballyhale or around the south-east of Kilkenny, there hasn’t been a case so that gives us confidence that we’re heading down training in a good position.”

Off the pitch Reid has plenty to contend with. He runs a gym in Kilkenny city that he was forced to shut the doors of in mid-March.

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It has reopened and he continues to work hard to make it a success but the fear remains that businesses like his may be closed again by the Government if the virus numbers start to escalate.

“It is difficult and obviously when you have a business or when you employ people you look at things a little bit differently. We have to stay open and if the Government decide to close things again an awful lot of places will be a ghost town.

“Small rural areas have only redeveloped since the motorway took things away. They are only getting back to normality. There Ballyhale put in recently a community tea room. That was buzzing, there was a bit of life in the village, a chemist opened as well.

“Unfortunately people are going to be affected by it, doesn’t matter what we do, people are going to pick up this virus, but it’s to have a solution for it and to adapt to it and to be able to work around it. For the economy, if things do close again it will drive people the wrong way and especially for us.

“I think common sense, and be responsible for your own actions and do as much as you can to try and prevent the curve from going up because if it does go up the Government will slow things back down again because they are trying to protect the frontline people.

“Then obviously it [trickles] down to small businesses, and pubs and restaurants and nightclubs. If things go backwards, well unfortunately we’ll have to make the decision to close again and that’s not an easy decision to make because I spent three years building this business and it takes hours and time and commitment and work and passion.

“When we closed the doors back in March I didn’t know will I have a business when it reopened because members were gone. I’m after losing probably 20-30% of my membership due to Covid and that’s a financial loss and it’s not an easy one to take because I’ve 13,000 square foot gym facility and big rent and big rates to pay.

“All businesses around there have spent money getting the doors reopened and doing as much as we can to give people the confidence to come back in. All we can do at this moment is to do or best.”

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TJ Reid was speaking today at the launch of AIB’s new video series that will tell the story of the GAA’s Toughest Summer.

The video series will consist of five webisodes as well as a feature length documentary that will be broadcast on RTÉ in late August.

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