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Thursday 17 August 2017

TJ Reid: Cody right to speak mind

Reid insists Cody was 'entitled' to air ref rant

TJ Reid has been a central figure for Kilkenny
TJ Reid has been a central figure for Kilkenny

TJ REID doesn't sugarcoat his words. If John O'Dwyer's disputed free had sailed just a few inches to the left, he would now be facing into "the worst winter of my life".

Instead, life couldn't be sweeter for the Kilkenny sharpshooter - an All-Ireland champion, again, after an epic recovery from the collective lows of 2013. And this time, indisputably, as one of the main men in Brian Cody's brilliantly rebooted machine.

Still, we're talking fine margins - a matter of inches - which brings us back to Tipperary's injury-time chance to win last month's drawn decider and the subsequent controversy refuelled by Cody's scathing post-replay comments about referee Barry Kelly.

First up, would Reid have felt a sense of injustice if O'Dwyer's long-range missile had bisected the Davin Stand posts, given Kilkenny's palpable anger over the call against Brian Hogan for charging while in possession?

"Yeah, there's been an awful lot of talk about it over the last week," the free-taker replies. "It would have been very harsh, I have to say.

"When you're training for the last year for an All-Ireland final, you don't want a decision to go like that. If it did go over the bar, it would have been the worst winter of my life ... we hadn't a second chance because the two minutes of injury-time were up and we were gone. Thank God that a bit of justice went right and it went wide."

Next related topic: Brian Cody's belated condemnation (three weeks later) of a decision that he branded "criminal". This spawned negative media commentary, fury in Kelly's native Westmeath and - most recently - a call from Cork referee John Sexton that "the GAA take action" against the game's most decorated bainisteoir.

ENTITLED

Reid, though, argues that his manager is entitled to air his view. "I didn't read too much into it," he begins. "I don't read the papers, to be honest, but I heard people talking about it. Look it, I think every manager and player is entitled to their opinions.

"We're playing the game, the media are able to judge on our performances so I think the media should look at the performances of the referees as well. They're there to be judged and the players are there to be judged on their performances as well. To be honest, it doesn't affect me too much ..."

Curiously, later in the same interview at the launch of the GAA/GPA's partnership with Best Menswear, Reid spoke of the pressure referees are under and how they should be allowed to get on with a difficult job.

He was harking back to another All-Ireland final controversy - the foul stroke that left him with a fractured kneecap even as Kilkenny celebrated their replay victory over Galway in 2012. He missed the entire 2013 league as a result and, like his team, then struggled through a difficult summer that didn't even extend into August.

"It is frustrating, of course, when you do get a nasty belt like that," he says. "You can't do anything about it - when you play hurling, you are going to get injured. The players themselves have to take control of their actions; it was a wild pull of a hurl. When you do pull a wild stroke, you are going to injure a player.

"I think this year referees are clamping down on that, in fairness to them. If you do pull a wild swing of a hurl now, it's a red card ... a few years ago that wasn't in place."

Thus, there's a better "balance" to how the game is refereed. "Of course a referee is going to have mistakes," Reid expands. "They have a tough job - any decision they make, their opposition is going to be giving out.

"Referees have a tough job and I think they do it very well. They're under a lot of pressure from everyone. I think just leave them alone to concentrate on their job."

IMMENSE

Concentration, focus, sheer hard work ... these were all central to Kilkenny's eventual success this year, as they upped the ante between draw and replay. "We wouldn't have beaten Tipp if that work-rate wasn't there," Reid admits. "The heart shown in that three weeks was immense and I know, coming up to the game, that we were very confident.

"We realised we were so close to losing (the first day) and that sunk in. Another inch and that ball was over."

As the Kilkenny club SHC cranks back into gear, Reid (who turns 27 next month) hasn't given up hope that his fellow Ballyhale Shamrock Henry Shefflin (36 in January) could yet resurface in black-and-amber.

"He'll make up his own mind but it will be a sad day if he does go," says Shefflin's deadball heir, "because having him there in the dressing-room and having himself there on the hurling field is an inspiration.

"It's only his first year coming on as a sub and he's fit - fitter than most guys in there. I hope he doesn't go and I hope there's no retirements this year because they're all young. Age is only a number. You saw that there this year. The average age in the group is 25/26, so that's in the peak years."

They haven't gone away, you know.

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