How TJ Reid became the main man for Kilkenny
By John Harrington
TJ Reid wasn’t always the complete hurler he is now.
His skill was always been apparent, but in the early years of his career he didn’t seem to have the physicality or self-belief to always make the most of it. Off the pitch he came across as somewhat shy and unsure of himself, and those aspects of his character were often mirrored on the pitch.
Nowadays, he is a different person completely. On the pitch, he’s grown into the best player in the game. While off it he’s now an accomplished public speaker and very sure of speaking his mind when dealing with the media.
He’s worked hard on making that metamorphosis. He realised he needed to steel himself physically for the challenge of playing hurling at the highest level, and once he did that and his form steadily improved, his self-confidence on and off the pitch quickly blossomed.
“I said to myself a few years ago that my hurling was there and my ability to hurl was there but mentally and physically maybe I wasn’t there,” admits Reid. “Going back it was a man’s game and if you were a young lad going out against the likes of the Rock and Sean Og O hAilpin they were strong men.
“I remember marking Seán Óg and he was a physical man and the passion he had on the field as well and he loved that Cork jersey. Going back to that Cork half back line you had Seán Óg Ó hAilpin, John Gardiner and Ronan Curran, three great half backs, and back then it was a man’s game and I wasn’t physically maybe right for it.
"But every year it’s changing. The game has changed now in that you need speed now more so than physicality. For myself I concentrated on conditioning and nutrition and I think it has helped. But you can’t always say to yourself it’s working. You have to keep working. I had a good year last year and I’m looking to improve things last year.”
That relentless desire for self-improvement seems to be woven into the DNA strands of every Kilkenny hurler. High achievement has only further fuelled their confidence and ambition, and it’s why they will go into Sunday’s Leinster Final against Galway as relentlessly drive as ever.
“Confidence helps, definitely,” says Reid. “And winning helps confidence. We hurled well against Dublin but our motivation is to win Leinster, simple as. Galway is in front of us so we have to try and beat Galway. Each individual player motivates themselves differently.
“As a team, we're united to beat Galway in the Leinster final and go through the front door. We don't want to be making things harder on ourselves going through the back door so we'll definitely be going 100 per cent to beat them in the Leinster final.”
Galway will surely be revved up themselves after losing last year’s All-Ireland Final to the Cats. But the challenge of playing a motivated team is clearly one that energises Reid.
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” he says. “If it was ourselves after losing to Galway last year and we facing them now in the Leinster final, we'd be motivated, we'd be as hungry as hell to go out and beat them. So in that Galway dressing-room, I'm fully aware of how motivated they are to beat us in the Leinster Final.”
Galway know their chances of beating Kilkenny on Sunday will improve exponentially if they somehow curb Reid’s massive influence. Teams are now singling him out for special treatment just like Clare did in the Allianz League Semi-Final when they detailed Brendan Bugler to follow him wherever he went and engage him as physically as possible.
That’s the sort of treatment that TJ Reid might have struggled to cope with in the early phase of his career. But he’s a different man now, and is both physically and mentally capable of dealing with it.
“I suppose for myself, I just have to think that I'll probably be marked tighter so you have to make sure you're mentally right going out in the game and knowing there's a lad going to be hitting off you and pulling your jersey. You just have to grind your teeth and get on with it.”