A couple of months off turning 32, TJ Reid may privately accept winning three more All-Ireland medals to catch Henry Shefflin’s record of 10 isn’t going to happen.
Yet for Jackie Tyrrell, who played throughout Kilkenny’s golden era alongside the two Ballyhale Shamrocks men, there’s no real difference between the pair.
That’s a huge statement to make in the context of Kilkenny hurling, given that Shefflin is regarded as their greatest ever, perhaps even Ireland’s greatest, and Tyrrell is happy to stand over it.
“If Kilkenny win this weekend and TJ captains them and it’s a decent game, once Seamus Callanan doesn’t run riot, he’s going to win a second Hurler of the Year award and for me he moves into the space with Henry Shefflin as two of the all-time hurling greats in Kilkenny,” said Tyrrell.
“You can have the conversation until the cows come home, who’s better? They’re both up there. Some days you’ll say it’s TJ, some days you’ll say it’s Henry but I’d say for the first time ever, TJ is right alongside him and there’s probably aspects of TJ’s hurling that Henry didn’t have. Henry wasn’t good at sidelines. He wouldn’t have been as good as TJ in the air.
Shefflin played alongside gifted Kilkenny forwards like Eddie Brennan, Richie Power and Eoin Larkin in the four-in-a-row team.
The current Kilkenny team is comparatively weaker and at the beginning of the Championship was only fifth in the All-Ireland betting.
Yet Reid has flourished in this environment and dragged the team through to face Tipp next weekend, winning the man-of-the-match award when they dethroned Limerick in the semi-finals.
“It was probably TJ realised: ‘It’s on me now to carry the can, Henry isn’t there, Larks isn’t there, Eddie Brennan. It’s on me’,” said Tyrrell.
“He’s grown into that responsibility and he’s revelled in that but that’s not for everyone. Some people shy away from that and say: ‘I’ll just be a half-forward and hit my two or three points and hit the frees’ but he’s just taken it to a different level.
“There comes times in games where you just need your go-to players and against Limerick, when we needed a puck-out won, TJ just put his hand up and caught the ball.
Tyrrell believes it would be long-serving boss Brian Cody’s greatest achievement in management if he can win a 12th All-Ireland this weekend.
“I would say it would be,” said Tyrrell. “With all due respect to the players and the panel he has at this disposal, I would think so.
“It would be his ultimate achievement and his best year as a manager. Look, it’s a bit away yet, but it would definitely top 2008, which was one of our most complete performances because I think the hurling world is an awful lot more competitive now than it was back then.”
Tyrrell was an unused sub when Kilkenny and Tipp last met in the Championship — in the 2016 final. The Kilkenny full-back line was torn asunder that day with Tipp’s full-forward trio of John McGrath, Seamus Callanan, and John O’Dwyer hitting 2-21 between them.
Yet Tyrrell reckons that far from being spooked by the prospect of coming up against their nemeses again, Kilkenny defenders like Joey Holden will be gunning for revenge.
“I would say they can’t wait to get their teeth into them. If I’m Joey Holden, and Seamus Callanan has done that to me, and I’m three years waiting to get back at him, I think the lads can’t wait to tear into them.”
Jackie Tyrrell has collaborated with Littlewoods Ireland to design a bespoke O’Neills jersey ahead of the 2019 All-Ireland SHC final. The jersey is to celebrate the launch of a range of official GAA county jerseys available on LittlewoodsIreland.ie in partnership with the GAA and O’Neills.
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