‘I’m not Henry. I’m TJ Reid. I’m doing what I can for the team’

Good question, responds TJ Reid when he is asked whether Sunday feels like an All-Ireland final.

‘I’m not Henry. I’m TJ Reid. I’m doing what I can for the team’

Good question, responds TJ Reid when he is asked whether Sunday feels like an All-Ireland final.

Reid’s opposition to January semi-finals and final dates is well known. How he loved the competition culminating on March 17.

“It’s different,” he says of Sunday’s senior club decider against Borris-Ileigh at Croke Park.

“It’s not the same day. It’s not St Patrick’s Day.

“St Patrick’s Day brought that hype. For me, I love St Patrick’s Day because, for me, that represents the grassroots of the GAA.

“The GAA is your club. And for me, even if we weren’t playing, you’d always know what’s going on on St Patrick’s Day. It’s club All-Ireland day.

"It’s great to have that unique feeling about it. Yeah, it’s January. It’s an All-Ireland final in January. That’s hard to get the head around.”

What might be as difficult to comprehend is for a game supposedly getting more suitable for the younger player with every passing year, Reid was one of three men over the age of 30 shortlisted for hurler of the year in 2019.

Brendan Maher, another All-Star and possibly his direct opponent in two days’ time, turned 31 last week and is also in the form of his life.

Just when people thought they had hurling pegged, the elder statesmen go and prove them wrong.

“The three people going for Hurler of the Year were myself, Seamus Callanan and Patrick Horgan. And we’re all over 30. So I think that changed.

“Clare and Cork played a young running game and everyone was saying ‘it’s a fast game now for young players. You have to have speed and you have to be young.’

"And then Galway put that to bed. They won the All-Ireland in 2017 with a physical approach. Six forwards who were 6ft2in.

"They went back to the traditional way of winning your own ball up front and getting scores.

“And then again, Limerick changed that. They had the physicality but they also had the skill and developed a running game, alongside the work rate.

"Obviously, go back to Tipp — traditional again. Six forwards who can create space and score. So I think it evolves.

"And every year is a different view on things. That running game is kind of put to bed at the moment. It’s back to basics.”

Wexford might beg to differ, their success against Kilkenny in recent games underlining that, but Reid is unquestionably standing the test of time, which he puts down to harmony off the field.

TJ Reid Health and Fitness is four years old in April and it obviously complements his hurling, but then having Henry Shefflin as club manager and Shefflin’s brother Tommy as physical trainer helps too.

Maher’s superb recovery from a cruciate injury in 2018 was assisted by his strength and conditioning expertise — he too runs his own gym in Borris-Ileigh’s clubhouse.

That another gym owner Andy Moran was still able to contribute to Mayo up to last year at the age of 35 also illustrated how marrying work with play can work.

Not that his hurling career was ever the reason Reid got into the business.

“I was always into strength and conditioning and nutrition anyway. It’s hard to know. My intention in starting my own business wasn’t to prolong my career.

“But it definitely helps. Obviously, if you have a match on a Sunday and you’re in a car, driving six or seven hours in a day, it definitely does impact on your body.

“Now if I have a match on a Saturday, I have the benefit of doing a recovery session on a Sunday before starting into the jobs I have to do in the gym.

“I control everything I do at this moment in time. And business is going very well.

"But if things are on the down — and I’ve nine staff employed — if those people weren’t getting their wages, or if people were coming through the doors, if rent wasn’t paid, well then my hurling would go to shit.

“Things are going very well for me at the moment and that allows me to be very consistent because I don’t have that headache.

"And then I can concentrate on my hurling and the stuff I do outside of hurling. I’m lucky in that I’m 32 and I have no injuries.

I haven’t missed training due to a hamstring or anything like that. My genetics are decent. So that plays a massive role.

“I can picture Michael Fennelly, if he hadn’t the niggles he had, still being a powerhouse for Kilkenny. But he just got the injuries, ankles and knee injuries.

"At the moment, he’s still a powerhouse for us at centre-back. He’ll be a huge loss for us, a huge hole to fill.

“I look back on Michael Rice as well. He got to 32, done his cruciate and that put him on the back burner as well.

"So injuries have a big impact on prolonging your career.”

According to Reid, it’s mere coincidence more than anything else that he took over the leadership of the Kilkenny team after Shefflin called time with Kilkenny.

Okay, he claimed the hurler of the year the first season of Shefflin’s retirement but it was never about replacing his club-mate.

“I’m not Henry. I’m TJ Reid. I’m doing what I can for the team.”

It’s clear, though, by the smile on his face when comparison to Shefflin is mentioned that such lofty analysis isn’t something that scares him.

“I live next door to Henry. He’s my manager. I hurled alongside him with Ballyhale and Kilkenny.

"I totally respect Henry for what he achieved. And yeah, it is fulfilling to hear those things, but you can’t dwell on that because you’re only as good as your last game.

“There’s no point in people saying those things if you can’t go and replicate that.

“As I said, I’m 32, but I have more years to play, more goals to fulfil before I do retire.

"It’s definitely nice to hear those things. But you can’t dwell on that.”

There’s plenty Reid and Ballyhale have learned that they have to park if not ever forget.

In memory of their late team-mate Eoin Doyle who passed away in a road accident in April 2018, Ballyhale captured the Tommy Moore Cup last year.

They aim to do the same to pay homage to the spirit of another player Eugene Aylward who also died following a crash in October.

Reid is aware Borris-Ileigh have had more than their fair share of tragedies too but he can only relay how they rocked and then inspired Shamrocks.

“We carried Eoin’s jersey all along with us last year in the dressing room after the game. It’s inspiring. But we can’t use that as motivation. Our motivation is to win.

“This year then, you’re just knocked with another sucker punch. For me, that funeral was the hardest day I’ve seen in Ballyhale.

"The whole street wearing the green and white jersey. Usually bringing home a cup and everyone smiling and celebrating.

But this time it was carrying a coffin up through the street. Old men crying. Club players crying. You’re training all your life with these club members and they’re crying in the church.

“Like Borris-Ileigh — life is not fair. Life throws you obstacles. And for us now — and I’m sure Borris-Ileigh are the same — it’s about trying to bring some kind of joy back into that family.

"But it takes a great panel of players to come together and go on and achieve something. Because a loss like that could knock the stuffing out of any player, out of any panel.

"For Borris-Ieigh to respond to it and Ballyhale to respond to it, it shows great character to overcome that.

“I remember just a week after Eugene passed away, we played Clara, we were getting beaten by seven or eight points. And we thought we were gone.

"It was easy to make excuses for ourselves because of what happened and nobody would have said anything to us.

“But it was the character and the attitude of the players that went out in the second half and we all fought together.

"I remember after we won, when we were doing our warm down, seeing Eugene’s family over crying in a huddle. And that’s tough.

"We’re hoping on January 19 that we can celebrate something special together.”

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