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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 20 March, 2019
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Shefflin as club manager, juggling two jobs with hurling and the eldest figure in the Kilkenny ranks

TJ Reid embarks on a new era with Ballyhale tonight as a different summer with Kilkenny beckons.

TJ Reid scored 0-15 in Kilkenny's league final triumph last Sunday.
TJ Reid scored 0-15 in Kilkenny's league final triumph last Sunday.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I DON’T KNOW how I’ll react to him if he’s shouting abuse to me on the field!” laughs TJ Reid.

He’s thinking of the new chapter in his club hurling career that starts this evening. The established fixture alongside him in attack putting the shoulder to the wheel for the Ballyhale cause is no more.

Henry the hurler was the natural figure for an aspiring player like Reid to seek to emulate, now he will be getting his tactical instructions from him as Shefflin is the sideline supremo.

Together the pair contributed to a golden period of hurling for Ballyhale Shamrocks with triumphs secured on the Kilkenny (6), Leinster (4) and All-Ireland (3) stages since 2006.

As they step out for the first time on the circuit in 2018 this evening against Castlecomer’s Erins Own, Shefflin is now in a coaching capacity after the debilitating effects of injuries prompted to bow out as a player last winter.

He has his brother Tommy, fresh from All-Ireland club success with Carrickshock, Richie O’Neill, part of the Kilkenny U21 brains trust last year, and Paddy Phelan for company.

“It’ll be bit strange,” admits Reid.

“(For) myself I was always playing alongside Henry and looking up to him and now he’s calling the shots.  I probably thought he might take a break, he’s five kids at home as well so I don’t know where he gets the time for it!

“I knew he would get into management the way he operates. He conducts himself very well, he’s just a very knowledgeable person as well. When I heard his name, I was delighted because I know what he brings. Anything he does, you can be guaranteed that it’ll be done properly.”

Henry Shefflin and TJ Reid lift the Kilkenny senior trophy Henry Shefflin and TJ Reid celebrating Kilkenny senior hurling championship glory. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Reid is slipping back into club mode this weekend. He knows the painstaking effort his Ballyhale team-mates have been putting in since January and that the familiar problem of ensuring they are fed a regular diet of club fixtures is flaring up again.

“They’ve only one game to prepare for and then there’s a break until Kilkenny are knocked out.

“It’s very frustrating for clubs. It’s very hard, they’ve been training for four months now. It’s not fair on them, dedicating themselves to training, all that time and only one game. There should be more respect given to club players but that’s just the way the format has gone this year.”

It’s been a week where Reid’s name has been dressed up in bright lights. A show-stopping performance in front of an educated and demanding Nowlan Park hurling crowd will do that. Kilkenny as a collective rose to the occasion in the second half against Tipperary but it was Reid’s haul of 0-15 and his heroics in the opening half that were essential ingredients in their league final victory.

It was the continuation of a spring where he has shot the lights out, finishing with 1-81 to his credit. The knockout stages saw him really flourish as he took Offaly for 0-12 and the 0-15 return against Wexford was matched by the contribution when facing Tipperary.

As the Kilkenny fans spilled onto the pitch and toasted last Sunday’s triumph, Reid didn’t need to be reminded of the status he now occupies in the Kilkenny dressing-room.

The departures to retirement over the past couple of winters have left him as the eldest member in Brian Cody’s ranks. At least the impending return of Richie Hogan from injury and the Lebanon-based pair of Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly will bring the familiar sight of players he has hurled with since underage ranks.

But the group of youngsters have infused the Kilkenny setup with a vibrant energy and Reid wants to keep wringing as much as he can out of this Kilkenny career.

Sky GAA Super Games Centre Launch TJ Reid at Castlecomer Community School in Kilkenny to launch the GAA Super Games Centre in partnership with Sky Sports at the school. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

“Mick Fennelly was (the eldest) but he retired in January so I’m the oldest now. I’m 30. It’s different of course. You’ve great friends (gone), lads like Kieran Joyce and Mick Fennelly that you won big games with.

“But look it’s not a bad complaint to have. There’s a good couple of years left in me. I don’t dwell on it too much. You see Ronaldo at 33 years of age, performing at his best still. You go back to the rugby, the captain for Ireland Rory Best is 35 and still performing.

“I’ve no major injuries, I look after myself well. I read an article with Andy Moran, he’s 35 this year and he said he’ll stay going for as long as he can. Going back to the likes of Henry Shefflin, he kept going himself until he knew it was time to step away from it.

“I think a player knows when the day comes and that enjoyment is gone. At the moment I’m enjoying every second of it.”

That enjoyment stems in part from his ease at life off the pitch. Yesterday was the first anniversary of the day when himself and his business partner Richard Connolly opened the doors to TJ Reid Health and Fitness on the Dublin road in Kilkenny city.

At the time Reid was working as a sales rep with Connolly’s Red Mills. He continued to juggle that role and his new position in the gym until last October.

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“I didn’t want to leave them in the lurch, so I worked with them up until last October,” says Reid.

“I packed that up then to concentrate on the gym full-time. I think that probably was a huge benefit because last year I was doing two jobs, I was working 16 to 18 hours a day, trying to hurl as well.

“So mentally it’s not really a great thing to do. But again I’ve no regrets of starting my own business. I’m very proud of myself for having the courage – probably like Andy Moran did – to go and do it and start up your own business and be fully responsible for it.

“For me personally there’s three categories and it’s family, work and then hurling. I think if anything goes outside those top three, something’s going to lose. So for me last year there was four things with two jobs, family and hurling. I had to cut one of them and that was being a sales rep with Connolly’s.

“If I had no hurling, I’d be able to manage the two jobs but trying to perform 100% the way hurling is now, you couldn’t do it. Looking back on last year, I did pretty well, I was one of the best forwards with Kilkenny.

“But it all comes down to your standard of living and what are you doing outside of hurling. It’s more relaxed now. I’ve more time to reflect on hurling and being in the gym, you can do your own bits and bobs as well.

“You know how to look after yourself a lot better. In the car you’re driving around every day, you’re stuck sitting down. In the gym facility you’re walking around every day and it’s good for your posture. I probably have more energy this year and hunger for the game.”

When Reid was first embarking on his Kilkenny career, his brother Eoin had already paved the way by being recruited onto the squad. On St Patrick’s Day the Reid brothers – Patrick being the third – weighed in with a combined from 3-7 from play as Ballyhale took down Loughrea in an All-Ireland final.

For their most recent county final appearance in 2016, the trio had younger brother Richie alongside them as they succumbed to O’Loughlin Gaels. Now TJ finds himself joined in the Kilkenny ranks by Richie, who has moved from the understudy to goalkeeper Eoin Murphy to jostling for an attacking position.

Sean O'Donoghue and Richie Reid Richie Reid (right) in action for Kilkenny against Cork in the hurling league in January. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Richie’s gone 25 now,” says TJ.

“It’s great having a brother on the panel but look you can’t dwell on it too much or you can’t protect him in there. If he’s not making the panel, you can’t be whingeing to the manager.

“I think you have to take responsibility yourself, Richie trains very hard, he looks after himself very well. It’s nice to have him involved but you have to concentrate on yourself.”

That level of focus sees him train his sight on the assignments that are looming with Kilkenny. It will be a more intense and scrutinised Leinster championship than what Reid is accustomed to.

Yet despite the hectic nature of the schedule, the notion of playing in noisy and claustrophobic provincial venues appeals to him more than days in Croke Park with rows of empty blue seats and a gentle murmur floating around the stadium.

“You just have to adapt to it. Going to Croke Park is great but having 10-15,000 there means the atmosphere is not as good. The first game in Parnell Park, the crowd is going to be in your face.

“The noise, the roar and the atmosphere will be more intense. It will be like (it was) going down to Wexford Park there (last year), the first five minutes of the game I couldn’t hear anything. The Wexford crowd were just in your face.

“That’s what you want to feed off the energy. It’s going to be a lot harder to win the (All-Ireland) as you’ve seven games to win. Other years you had four or five and you could peak. You have to get in a bubble now for the next few months as the games will come thick and fast.”

A new era beckons with the county soon. A new one starts with the club tonight.

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Fintan O'Toole

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