The Kilkenny forwards around TJ Reid need to step up their scoring contributions, according to former Cats defender Brian Hogan. Of the 8-85 which Kilkenny tallied across their four Leinster SHC round-robin games, Reid was responsible for 52% (5-42) of that total.
Or to put it more simply, the centre-forward hit more than all of his teammates combined. In terms of scores from play, the 31-year old Ballyhale Shamrocks hurler accounted for one-quarter of that particular total, further highlighting the form he’s been in this past month and a half, as well as the reliance on him to steer Kilkenny through the early stages of the championship.
Hogan, who won seven All-Ireland medals during his time in the black and amber, acknowledges that the Kilkenny forwards, Reid aside, must improve their individual tallies. Mind you, he drew encouragement from what he witnessed in Wexford Park the weekend before last when Brian Cody’s charges managed to eke out a draw despite Reid being held scoreless from play.
“Adrian Mullen, having not played particularly well in the first-half against Wexford, finished with 1-3. Adrian showed maturity to stick at it and take his chances when they came his way,” said Hogan.
“If you are relying on TJ, you’ll become very predictable. Having Walter Walsh back from injury the last day was very important. Rather than players knowing the ball is going towards TJ and trying to crowd him out of it, Walsh offers another outlet, the same as Richie Hogan. Defenders focus in on Richie’s movements. That in itself will hopefully create a bit more space for TJ.
The other players around him do have to step up in offering an additional scoring threat, but there were signs in Wexford Park that they are well capable of doing that.
Hogan sees the duel of Reid and Model County centre-back Matthew O’Hanlon as one of the key battles in deciding whether Kilkenny reclaim the Bob O’Keeffe Cup after three years away from the winners’ enclosure or Wexford bridge an 11-year gap to their last Leinster title.
“Matthew did a great job on TJ at Wexford Park. TJ didn’t rack up the scores he had been hitting in previous games but that was not purely down to Matthew either, the Wexford defensive unit hurled pretty well. It is a different ball game when you move up to Croke Park. The pitch plays tighter in Wexford Park so things tend to be more congested. As a back, you can maybe get away with a little bit more in those circumstances, whereas up in Croke Park, there is more space and the pulling and dragging is spotted a little bit more.
“You have to attack the ball a lot more in Croke Park than you’d have to below in Wexford Park. That will allow TJ, hopefully, a little bit more room to drift and get away from his marker.”
Richie Hogan was an unused sub last day out, but his namesake believes it is vital the 2014 hurler of the year is involved at some point on Sunday.
“He gives such a lift to players when he comes on. I said before the last Wexford match that you want Walter Walsh, TJ Reid, Colin Fennelly and Richie playing. The same applies to this Sunday. Those four guys bring that experience and physicality, and also take a bit of the pressure off TJ because the rate he’s going at, he can’t maintain that.”