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Top Cat Reid leads his men to victory

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tj reid

tj reid

SPORTSFILE

tj reid

IF TJ Reid was in the business of writing Hollywood scripts, he could hardly have devised a feel-good story to match yesterday's Kilkenny senior hurling final in Nowlan Park.

We won't go so far as to label it a fairytale - given Ballyhale Shamrocks' reputation as modern-day Goliaths - but they still entered this decider as challengers, trying to usurp the holders from Clara.

Then, with just over three minutes on the clock, they were facing into a mini-crisis, having conceded 1-2 without reply.

From that perilous juncture on, we witnessed a Ballyhale masterclass in which TJ Reid filled the dual role of visionary orchestrator and executioner-in-chief.

Shamrocks had several standout performers en route to the club's 15th county senior title, but their captain was still head and shoulders above a stellar support cast.

At the end of his victory speech, Reid was treated to an impromptu rendition of "Happy Birthday" from his appreciative colleagues. He turned 27 yesterday and played, not so much like a man for whom all his birthdays had come at once, but rather like a two-time All Star oozing with confidence as he enters his prime years.

Yesterday he played like a man whose belief never wavered, even after that calamitous start. He started at full-forward but quickly roamed out to the half-forward line from where he sprayed passes and pinged points with effortless precision. The stats don't lie. Ten points, including four from play. We counted at least another four Ballyhale points where Reid played the final exquisite assist to a better-placed colleague.

Reid was also fouled for his own converted free - at a pivotal moment, ten minutes from time, just after points from a Keith Hogan free and lively forward Chris Bolger had cut Clara's deficit to a goal.

STALLED

In that instant, you sensed, Clara's mini-comeback had fatally stalled. Reid landed a monstrous point from midfield, after James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick had embroidered his workaholic display by winning the Clara puckout.

There was still time for Reid to enter double-digits; for Henry Shefflin to pick up a bang on his hand and then a yellow for what seemed a legitimate, albeit bone-shaking shoulder; for Clara's last slim chance to evaporate when Lester Ryan's 20m free was blocked on the line; and then for Colin Fennelly to crown victory with a stunning injury-time score set up by Shefflin.

On this evidence, they will take some stopping - and not just next Sunday, when the Kilkenny kinpins travel to Parnell Park for a Leinster semi-final date with Kilmacud Crokes (2.0; part of a double-header with the Leinster Club SFC semi-final of St Vincent's v Garrycastle, 4.0).

"An amazing feeling, so it is," Reid enthused after he had finished signing autographs. "To win a county final alone is a great feeling but to do it on your birthday is something special ... I'm 27 today, I'm only starting out!"

As with their semi-final win over St Martin's, however, starting out doesn't always come easily to Shamrocks. Those opening minutes yielded two quick points for Bolger and goalkeeper Killian Phelan (a free from inside his own '65') before a high ball caused panic in the Ballyhale Shamrocks rearguard. Conor O'Shea and James Nolan duly combined to leave Bolger with a routine finish.

If the favourites appeared flummoxed, they soon found their mojo. Reid launched the comeback and then others took up the baton, most notably Fitzpatrick (in that familiar floating role wherein the sliotar appears magnetically attracted to 'Cha') and Michael Fennelly at centre-back.

Fennelly's sublime long-range pass was at the genesis of Ballyhale's ninth minute goal; he brilliantly located the ghosting Shefflin, who selflessly crossed for Mark Aylward to score.

We still had to wait until the 17th minute before Eoin Reid's over-the-shoulder effort drew Shamrocks level.

CLIPPED

Still, with hindsight, the holders may reflect that withdrawing a forward for much of that first half played into the hands of Ballyhale, who clipped the last seven points to lead by 1-11 to 1-6 at the midpoint.

For the middle ten minutes of the second period, after skipper Seán O'Shea had bravely blocked down a Reid goal attempt, Clara recovered some of their early zest: they landed six out of nine points, cutting the margin to a goal.

In truth, though, the class of Ballyhale always looked like winning out.

As Reid remarked: "A few boys there are over the 30 mark so, if we didn't get to a county final this year, next year those boys mightn't be there ... if you look through the team, the talent we have there and the players, it's probably the best in the county.

"So we knew, if we lost this year, it would have been a waste of a year," conclued the Man of the Match.

SCORERS - Ballyhale Shamrocks: TJ Reid 0-10 (5f, 1 '65'), M Aylward 1-1, C Fennelly 0-3, J Fitzpatrick, H Shefflin, E Reid 0-2 each. Clara: K Hogan 0-5f, C Bolger 1-2, C O'Shea 0-2 (1 sideline cut), K Phelan (f), N Prendergast, L Ryan, A Murphy 0-1 each.

BALLYHALE SHAMROCKS: R Reid; A Cuddihy, J Holden, T Coogan; P Shefflin, M Fennelly, B Aylward; C Walsh, D Hoyne; J Fitzpatrick, C Fennelly, H Shefflin; E Reid, TJ Reid, M Aylward. Subs: B Cody for Aylward (58).

CLARA: K Phelan; D Nolan, S O'Shea, S Prendergast; N Prendergast, T Ryan, D Langton; L Ryan, J Langton; C O'Shea, K Hogan, L Ryan; C Bolger, A Murphy, J Nolan. Subs: C Prendergast for Murphy (44), P Nolan for L Ryan (56), D Prendergast for C O'Shea (60).

YELLOW: Ballyhale Shamrocks 2 (H Shefflin 58, Holden 58); Clara 0.

RED: 0.

WIDES: Ballyhale Shamrocks 6 (4+2); Clara 5 (2+3) .

REF: G Quilty (Slieverue).

ATT: 8,612.

MAN OF THE MATCH: TJ Reid (Ballyhale).


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