TJ Reid says January's All-Ireland Club Hurling title win may be the best victory of his career.
A year on from a heartbreaking loss to Ballygunner in the All-Ireland decider, Ballyhale defeated Antrim and Ulster champions Dunloy to claim the title for the ninth time. In the semi-final, Reid's side had gained "revenge" on Ballygunner.
"To be beaten the year before and have the resilience to come back again and get back to an All-Ireland final," said Reid, the Gaelic Writers’ Association's Hurling Personality of the Year for 2022.
"For a small little parish, it doesn’t happen often. But we got back there. A lot of things were happening in the club. You had Joey, Colin coming back to get us over the line. It was just a sweet one. Probably the best victory of my career.
"It wasn’t just the final, it was the year. It was the semi-final, beating Ballygunner. That was special. That was a victory because we were being written off. Everyone was talking about Ballygunner being the best club team ever. It was a bit disrespectful after what our club Ballyhale Shamrocks has achieved over the last 10 years. Ballygunner beat us in the final a year ago so to get revenge… revenge is sweet when it works out. We won that game.
"You’ve seen the celebrations afterwards. Even talking to other people, that game meant a lot to the parish of Ballyhale. It’s not just us, it’s the club. It’s the people, the volunteers, the people who make the sandwiches after training – it hurt them as well that people were speaking so little of Ballyhale Shamrocks and regarding Ballygunner as the favourites… no fault of Ballygunner. The media and the press were highlighting that."
Reid said the semi-final against Ballygunner "certainly did" feel like an All-Ireland final.
"Two quality teams. They’ve won nine in a row, we’ve achieved five in a row. So two massive, massive clubs," Reid said.
"People were saying whoever wins that game would most likely go on and win the All-Ireland and that’s obviously what the media were talking about – no disrespect to Dunloy or St Thomas’s.
"That was probably the biggest game I’ve played in terms of the hype and what’s at stake because we felt as a club, if we lost that game, everything that we’ve done over the last five years would have been tarnished.
"As a player, as management, as a people in Ballyhale, that’s the one that people wanted to win. And we did that.
"The All-Ireland was a big one. A tough one. For the Ballygunner game, it was being said they were favourites, we were the underdogs. Straight away, for the final it was 'you’ll beat Dunloy' or 'it’s an easy one for us… you have the game won'.
"That was the most difficult thing. It was a very dangerous game. We very much emphasised that in the build-up because if you start listening to people we could get caught.
"We respected Dunloy and that’s why we pushed on to win the game. They’ve won four in a row up in Dunloy as well. So it was more relief when we got there.
"We didn’t perform to our full calibre. I think we were a bit nervous after last year. Until really the 58th minute til we turned on the style and finished strongly."
Reid said he "more than likely" will not feature for Kilkenny in this year's hurling league due to a few "niggles" he's still working through.
"I’m on a strength and conditioning block right now," said Reid.
"I’m working with the physios and the strength and conditioning coaches because I have a few little niggles that I’ve played through the whole club championship again. This is my fifth week off the field. I’m back on the field next week taking part in field-based exercises.
"Derek (Lyng) has been great as well. I had a newborn baby and had a week or two there as well to spend time with the family which is very respectful. I’m back in the gym doing four or five sessions a week."
Though he is 35, has a newborn child, and also runs his own health and fitness business, the seven-time All-Ireland winner has no plans to retire from inter-county hurling.
"If my attitude was like that I would have went 10 years ago, after winning my first one," he said.
"As a sports player, it’s all about the next one. Look, I’ve achieved unbelievable stuff with the club and county but your mindset can’t be selfish that way. Yes, I’m married, I’ve a new born baby, I’m very happy, life is good. I’m going into my job smiling every day so there is no reason to decide enough is enough.
"In my life at the moment, I can control the controllables, which is great. And the business is flying. If it was struggling, yes, of course it would be very stressful. But I’m hurling well and I still believe in myself. As a player, you have to be honest with yourself. You have to say, 'Look, I can’t perform anymore'.
"Coming from a strength and conditioning background, [a] I do, if you leave a number define your career, even life in general, you’re playing on a losing battlefield straight away. Obviously monitoring your load is a day to day thing now.
"Sports science is evolving. It is allowing other people to perform to their maximum and get a couple of years out of them. Now we have GPS trackers so every training session, every match, is volumed. Before, or 10 years ago, every one trained the same way. Now, it’s more individualised."