Under the Hogan Stand, TJ Reid stopped to chat. After scoring 2-2, it didn’t appear it would be a difficult request, and so it turned out, but his demeanour wasn’t one of delight but righteous indignation.
Leading up to the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary, he’d heard the accusations that he was little more than an impact substitution. After a dismal Leinster final, he’d been dropped for the quarter-final win over
Limerick, the latest in a number of setbacks for the then 24-year-old and likely would have remained on the bench but for Richie Hogan’s suspension.
“I put that to the back of my mind,” he said at the time.
“All week I have been hearing that and as a player you’d be pissed off hearing that. That’s why I went out (today) and tried to prove myself. I’m playing with the best hurlers in history probably — Henry Shefflin and Tommy Walsh. I’m not going to play with any better players. It’s a privilege but I can’t just be looking at them. I have to be a leader as well and today I got the job.”
Few knew that afternoon that Reid had come close to quitting weeks earlier.
“I was thinking about retiring,” he admitted three years later.
“I would be very good friends with Henry. He sat me down and spoke to me. So it was my choice then. I suppose what turned it was that I loved it so much and it would have been hard to walk away from it. I think it was a stepping stone for myself. I spoke to Brian about it as well. Maybe I opened up to Brian about how I felt. After that incident I went on, we won the All-Ireland and I got an All-Star.”
It was against Tipperary that Reid came of age. The following season was a write-off for him as much as Kilkenny but his career climbed again in 2014 when after a spring of sharing free-taking duties with Shefflin and Eoin Larkin he was given the role on a permanent basis. From the league quarter-final to that year’s All-Ireland final, he hit 9-77 in 10 games, 1-52 from frees, six points from 65s.
It’s 1-66, 0-53 from placed balls, in six starts in this year’s league as Reid has continued to hold the torch for Kilkenny. John Power wouldn’t say he’s improved, though. “No, I wouldn’t. I say that because people don’t realise that he has always been that good. The last couple of years, he’s been disregarded in terms of All-Stars. He was racking up scores. Just because Kilkenny had fallen back and were not winning didn’t mean TJ wasn’t as good as he was. His form never let up.
“I always feel that when you’re sitting down to pick All-Stars you should think of it like picking a team to play England in an international sport. You wouldn’t leave TJ Reid off. I think he has treated unfairly and the general consensus in Kilkenny would be that he’s been taken for granted.”
Reid may have intimated as much in a spiky interview last year when he spoke of how he would have turned down the endorsement opportunities that came his way after his 2015 hurler of the year season.
“Yeah, I’d tell them to fuck off. Everyone is supposed to be nice to you and everyone wanted you, the media are your best friends when they want stuff out of you and as soon as your performance dips, they’re the first people to cut the back off you.”
Power does accept, though, that the responsibility of taking frees did transform Reid.
“In every decade of Kilkenny hurling, there has been a special player from Paddy Phelan to Jim Langton to Eddie Keher to DJ (Carey) to Henry, JJ (Delaney) and Tommy (Walsh). TJ is in that group and it’s true that when he took over the frees as Henry finished up it brought confidence to his game and he realised he’s as good as anyone out there. TJ’s not a boastful player. He’s not arrogant on the ball — it’s all about the score whether it’s he or somebody else doing it. He’s a tremendous temperament.
“Any aerial ball that goes his way, it’s going into his hand. Young players around him
this year, I feel are playing it more to him than in the last couple of years when fellas were going for their own ball and score. It doesn’t seem to matter now and it shouldn’t if TJ has 17 points behind his name at the end. Everyone knows this is the fella we need to get into the shooting position.”
Having established a gym in Kilkenny City, Reid appears to be trying to take a leaf out of Andy Moran and Philly McMahon’s books. The 2015 hurler of the year has also gone into the food business, like McMahon producing non-processed healthy ready-made meals. He spoke last year of the pressures attached to setting up the gym but the hope is the move could elongate his career like Mayo’s Moran.
Power believes Reid will play well into his 30s but not for that reason.
“You look at where he is from and all the Ballyhale played well into their 30s. Their belief is they can do this. They could have a U15 C team and the same team could end up winning U21. That’s the type of parish it is and that’s their standard and it comes from older people who talk it constantly and go down to watch the players in the field. It’s what they expect.”
When Power predicts a home win tomorrow, claiming “Tipp don’t seem to be able for it in the Park”, it’s because of men like Reid who hasn’t lost a game he has started against Tipperary in Nowlan Park.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved