Sport

Christy O'Connor: Record-breaking Reid's relentless pursuit of glory is to be admired

Clare's David McInerney and Kilkenny's TJ Reid in action during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final between Clare and Kilkenny on 07-02-2022 at Croke Park Dublin. Pic Philip Walsh.
Paul McConville

At the end of the All-Ireland club final in mid-February, TJ Reid threw himself down on the Croke Park pitch and it took him an age to get back up.

Reid was devastated, inconsolable. Ballyhale Shamrocks were on the cusp of a famous three-in-a-row when an incredible strike from Harry Ruddle with the last play drove Ballygunner into dreamland and Ballyhale into purgatory.

Although Reid had won an All-Ireland with Ballyhale in 2020, and a Leinster club at Headquarters with the Shamrocks in December 2021, that feeling back in February was becoming completely unfamiliar and too regular for Reid’s liking for big games in Croke Park.

Defeats in the 2019 All-Ireland final (when he was captain), the 2020 and 2021 All-Ireland semi-finals, along with the 2022 club final was also completely at odds with so much of Reid’s career when he had known nothing only big wins in Croke Park.

That had been particularly evident in All-Ireland semi-finals; of the first eight All-Ireland semi-finals Reid played with Kilkenny, they had won all eight. Two successive defeats was a shock. Three in-a-row was unconscionable. And unacceptable. “No way was that happening today,” he said after last Saturday’s win against Clare.

Reid did more than anyone to ensure it didn’t. From seven first half plays, Reid scored one point and had four assists. He only had one possession for most of the second half but he kept working and tackling, having a hand in winning a free, before finishing with a huge burst of two points from three late shots.

Once again though, his free-taking was impeccable, nailing seven points from seven shots. In his last two games, Reid has now bagged 19 points from 20 placed balls. That actually could have been 20 from 20 because the one placed ball he missed in the Leinster final went to Hawk Eye, when no data was available to tell if the shot was a score or not.

He is such an incredible player that Reid is now firmly in the pantheon of greats. With 73 appearances, he now has more Championship appearances than any other Kilkenny player. After the All-Ireland final, Reid will only be two appearances off Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh at the top of that list.

He is also chasing down Patrick Horgan who became the highest scorer in Championship history back in May. Reid is currently on 28-469, which is just 29 points behind Horgan.

The change in modern equipment, especially sliotars, along with new Championship formats and more games, has helped the modern forwards accumulate more scores than their predecessors.

Yet everything is accelerated in modern sport. The hurling Championship record was held by Eddie Keher for nearly 40 years before Henry Shefflin grabbed hold of it in 2010. But it has now changed hands twice in the space of less than 10 months, with Joe Canning taking it in July 2021 before Horgan grabbed it off him in May.

Horgan will hold the record for longer than Canning had it, but he was also expected to have it for longer than Shefflin had too, who held it for 11 years after surpassing Eddie Keher in 2010. Keher’s record had stood since 1972 when he overtook Christy Ring.

However, Horgan’s expected grip on that record now will probably only last until next year, especially if Reid returns for at least one more season.

Horgan lost his starting place this summer and there are no guarantees that he will return next season. Even if he does, he may only be an impact player like he was for the latter part of Cork’s championship.

Reid is a year older than Horgan but there is no sign of him slowing down. During Kilkenny’s game against Laois in the round robin, Reid also joined an exclusive club with Canning, Horgan and Shefflin by surpassing the 500-point mark. But his numbers have been consistently climbing throughout the Championship.

That surge has been even more important to Kilkenny’s charge because the fear before the Championship was that Reid may only be a bit-part player because of injury. He only came on at half-time against Westmeath and was taken off at half-time against Galway. Yet he returned with a bang against Dublin, scoring one of the goals of the Championship, and Reid is now firmly in the running for another Hurler of the Year award.

The expectation at the outset of the year was that this could be Reid’s last season with Kilkenny but he’s unlikely to stop now, especially in this form.

He has Horgan’s record in his sights now but if Reid doesn’t catch Horgan, nobody else might do so for at least a decade or more, if ever.

Tony Kelly is now in the top 10 list but he is still 278 points behind Horgan. Aaron Gillane is 356 points back from the Glen Rovers man. All those number further underline Horgan’s incredible record, but they also accentuate Reid’s brilliance.

Twelve of his 73 appearances with Kilkenny were as a sub because it took Reid so long to nail down a starting place on the greatest team of all time. He only assumed the role of Kilkenny’s primary free-taker in 2014, which was Reid’s eighth season on the panel.

Now in his 16th season, Reid is still weaving his magic. “He’s a player for the ages,” said Donál Óg Cusack on The Sunday Game night-time show at the weekend.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better player than TJ Reid.”

Des Cahill said to Brendan Maher, the former Tipperary player sitting beside Cusack in the studio, that it was a big statement for the former Cork goalkeeper to make.

“It is but it’s hard to argue with it,” said Maher. “When you get that question of who is the toughest opponent you’ve ever come up against, TJ Reid is always on the top of my lips. If he stays performing the way he does for another final I can’t see him retiring. Why would he when he’s playing the way he is?”

Absolutely. Reid is going nowhere. And he’s on the road to somewhere nobody may reach for a long, long time. If ever.