In this week's My Club and I, we speak to Kilkenny forward TJ Reid about his club Ballyhale Shamrocks.
We actually have no clubhouse. So if you came down to Ballyhale, you'd be amazed to see the set up. No floodlights, no 3G pitch, nothing like that. We just focus on the hurling.
By Arthur Sullivan
As the only hurling club to have won five All-Ireland Senior Club Championships, Kilkenny's Ballyhale Shamrocks can legitimately claim to be the greatest hurling club in the history of the GAA.
The parish of Ballyhale is located about 25 km south of Kilkenny city, in the south centre of Co. Kilkenny. There are three distinct areas in Ballyhale - the rural area of Knockmoylan and the villages of Ballyhale and Knocktopher.
Knockmoylan, Ballyhale and Knocktopher were represented by individual clubs for much of the 20th century, but by 1972, the three had combined to form Ballyhale Shamrocks - paving the way for dominance over the next four decades at county, provincial and national level.
Ballyhale Shamrocks won the first of their 14 Kilkenny SHC titles in 1978, and won nine county titles in a blinding spell of dominance from 1978-1991. Four Leinster titles (1978, 1980, 1983, 1989) and three All-Irelands (1981, 1984, 1990) were also secured during that spell.
Kilkenny SHC: 14
Leinster Club: 7
All-Ireland Club: 5
The club's current spell of dominance began in 2006 when they defeated O'Loughlin Gaels to win their first Kilkenny SHC title in 15 years. They have won five county titles in the last eight years (2006, 2007, 2009, 2009, 2012), three Leinster titles (2006, 2008, 2009) and two All-Irelands (2007,2010).
TJ Reid is one of a number of Ballyhale players on the Kilkenny senior panel at the moment. He is joined by Michael Fennelly, Colin Fennely, Joey Holden and of course, the iconic Henry Shefflin.
As arguably the greatest GAA player of all time, Henry Shefflin casts a long shadow at Ballyhale. Yet perhaps his modesty and humility has its origins in the fact that he is just the latest in a string of Ballyhale Shamrocks greats.
(Henry Shefflin in action for Ballyhale in 2012)
The club have provided a huge amount of Kilkenny All-Ireland winners, All-Ireland winning captains and All Stars over the years. Ger Fennelly (1979), Liam Fennelly (1983, 1992), Shefflin (2007), James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick (2008) and Michael Fennelly are the Ballyhale players that have captained All-Ireland winning Kilkenny teams.
Despite their huge achievements, Ballyhale is no flashy place. As TJ Reid explains below, the club have very modest facilities - two dressings rooms and two pitches, with no club house.
Click here for more about Ballyhale Shamrocks
Q: Where is Ballyhale Shamrocks and where do your players come from?
A: We're a small area about a 30 minutes drive from Kilkenny city. There's three areas - Knockmoylan, Ballyhale and Knocktopher. They were all individual clubs back in history, but we combined them together back in the 1970s, I think it was. We formed a team called Ballyhale Shamrocks and you'll see on our club crest there's a K, B and K; K for Knockmoylan, B for Ballyhale and K for Knocktopher. It's not an overly big place. It's a small community but one that's very interested in hurling.
Q: When one thinks of Ballyhale, tradition is a word that immediately comes to mind...
A: Back in the 1980s, the club won a lot of county finals and All-Ireland finals. They did a lot for the tradition of the place. Then in our school in Ballyhale, we have a very good principal there, Joe Dunphy. He developed hurling there and every day we were hurling, hurling, hurling with a very small bit of football! So for me, it's something that's very important for any teacher in a school, to get the kids to play hurling or football if you want a tradition to take hold.
We developed like that and that's where the players come from. Henry (Shefflin) came through like that. Then 'Cha' (James Fitzpatrick), Michael Fennelly, myself and Colin Fennelly, who are all on the Kilkenny team at the moment. We also have a few players on the minor team as well, Ronan Corcoran and Darren Mullen. Unfortunately, Darren Mullen did his cruciate recently. But we have players coming through the whole time. We come from a very close-knit parish, and one that loves hurling.
Q: Do you have a strong family connection with the club?
A: I do. My uncle Richie (Reid) hurled back with Kilkenny in the 1970s and 1980s and was a big Ballyhale player. My father Seán Reid was involved with Kilkenny too but he suffered a bad ankle ligament injury during his career. He has Kilkenny senior championship medals with Ballyhale.
(TJ's uncle Richie, being honoured at Croke Park in 2004 along with other members of the 1979 Kilkenny team)
I also have three brothers heavily involved. My brother Patrick was on Kilkenny teams at minor and U21 level and he's still flying for Ballyhale Shamrocks. My brother Eoin has four All-Ireland medals at U21 and senior level with Kilkenny, and Richie has an All-Ireland minor medal and he's been on the U21 team for the last two years. So there's a lot of us at home and it's always been hurling in our place.
Q: What are the facilities like at Ballyhale Shamrocks?
A: We have no gym facilities or anything like that. We have just the normal - two full size pitches and two dressing rooms. That's all we have. We just concentrate on the underage structure more than anything else. Getting young lads down to hurling as quickly as possible - at U6, U8 and so on. They're down there every Saturday morning.
We actually have no clubhouse. So if you came down to Ballyhale, you'd be amazed to see the set up. We have dressing rooms but nothing else, nowhere for club functions or meals or things like that. Even though we have won a lot of things over the years, we just concentrate on hurling. No floodlights, no 3G pitch, nothing like that. We just focus on the hurling.
Q: If that is the case, the club must be run on very solid principles and a clear ethos. What are the principles and what is the ethos of Ballyhale Shamrocks?
A: When I was a young lad, there was Henry Shefflin. I looked up to Henry so when I was a child, I wanted to play for Ballyhale Shamrocks to play beside him. Having club lads on a county team inspires the young children in the club to become like them. The kids are down training every night watching the senior players. Every night we train, there are five or six young lads pucking balls off the wall and watching us.
It's something that is very important and we are lucky that at the moment we have five players from the club on the county panel. We are just very lucky that we have those players. Other clubs might not have that. So for any young lad, the advice would be to follow a player as closely as you can. That's what I did. I followed DJ Carey first even though he was at a different club, and then Henry was next, from my own club. I tried to take as much as I could from him. To try to copy him.
(Henry Shefflin after the Leinster Senior Club final win over Birr in 2008)
Q: Henry Shefflin is an icon of Irish sport. Yet you have been able to know him in a very personal way with Ballyhale. Give us an insight into the man from your perspective.
A: He's just dedicated. When he was young, he just worked very, very hard. He developed late. I was a slow developer and Henry was the same - he developed late. But he developed into a great player. He trains hard. Every night you see him at training, he always stays back for 20 minutes or more to take frees and practice his shooting.
He is always doing something. You might meet him in the gym, see him running. He's always on the move. He's just dedicated totally. Dedicated to his family, and that's something that's very important to the whole thing as well - your family base. So he has everything that he has but he never got a big head. And that is what truly sets him out from the crowd.
Q: When did you make your breakthrough onto the Ballyhale senior team?
A: It was quite a while ago. I started with them back in 2004 as a goalkeeper. I was a goalkeeper when I was U14, U16 and minor. But having developed late, I eventually broke out to the middle sector. But I started in goals in 2004. We lost to O'Loughlin Gaels in the quarter-finals that year. The following year I was midfield and we lost to James Stephens in the county final, and the year after that we won the county title.
Q: From there, it seems to have been quite a procession of success for the club?
A: That first final win was 2006 and that started a run of four county titles in a row. I have won five county medals with Ballyhale so far. Since making my debut I have also won two All-Ireland medals and three Leinster medals. The senior boys had been there but they weren't quite making the breakthrough. Then a conveyor belt of players came through - players like myself, my brother Eoin, Michael Fennelly and 'Cha' Fitzpatrick.
We had won four U21 county medals in a row with Ballyhale as a group, and after winning those, we brought that winning mentality through to the senior team. Then on the senior team, players like Henry, Aidan Cummins and Bob Aylward combined their experience with the young lads' winning mentality. And that's what has brought us five county medals since 2006.
(TJ Reid celebrates the 2010 All-Ireland Club final win with his teammates at Croke Park)
Q: It's the dream of every club player, however realistic, to win an All-Ireland with their club. You have done it twice with Ballyhale. What does that feel like?
A: When you are playing with your club, you're playing with your best friends for life. The county is obviously great but when you go away from the county, you might not see a player for a few years. At the club, your players are always there for you. If you have any problems, you can talk to them. So to win an All-Ireland medal in Croke Park is a very special moment.
It's a long year and it's a tough year. We had long years doing it. Training in January and February is not an easy task. When you have the snow on your back and the ground in bad condition. So to win an All-Ireland with the club is very, very special. To go home on the bus celebrating, to go home to Knocktopher, Ballyhale and Knockmoylan, to see all the family and friends there, it's just unbelievable.