Colin Fennelly has paid tribute to TJ Reid’s influence in the wake of yet another Leinster senior club title for Ballyhale Shamrocks.
Reid was given little space or respite by St Mullins’ Michael Walsh in the provincial decider in Portlaoise on Sunday.
Mullins manager Niall O’Donnell raved about his defender’s display afterwards. He had a point, but Reid was not exactly anonymous.
Eight points from dead balls may register as merely standard, and one point from play was hardly electric, but the former hurler of the year still managed to influence the game with a number of brilliantly executed passes.
His catch and feed to Fennelly for the goal that effectively decided the game two minutes after half-time was the perfect example of that.
“That’s the best part about TJ. He is the best player out there and we probably saw this throughout the year with Kilkenny when there was two matches when he didn’t score (from play) and yet he was man of the match.
“That’s the separation, the difference from us all. He’s just that step ahead. He is a great player and a great leader.”
Ballyhale now face an All-Ireland semi-final against Slaughtneil on the earlier-than-normal date of January 4.
A quiet Christmas awaits. “It is unusual,” said Fennelly. “It is strange. I am sure they had their theory behind it. I don’t know what it is, but we have to just look forward to it.”
Sunday’s win marked a 10th provincial title and an eighth national crown awaits if they can win another two games. Four of their All-Irelands have been banked in the last dozen years but never back-to-back.
They can change that in the next two months.
Reid and Fennelly will be central to that. So will manager Henry Shefflin who has brought a Midas touch to Ballyhale since donning the bib, and Fennelly has lauded the job done in keeping a panel of up to 40 players fit and focused and hungry through two seasons.
Slaughtneil will surely test that appetite. Ulster champions three times in the last four seasons, they will be underdogs but they will want to emulate the likes of Cushendall who reached the All-Ireland final in 2016, and Loughiel Shamrocks who claimed the crown four years before.
“We’re used to being favourites with Ballyhale and we’re used to getting beaten as favourites,” said Fennelly.
“I go back to Henry again, it is the way that he trains us and his attitude towards every game, no matter what match it is. He looks after the other team. He will show us clips of the other team but that is it.
GAA coaching from those who know best: A brainstorming session with football's sharpest minds