Three superstars, a plethora of penalties and fairytales not finished yet

A winter’s day, in a deep and dark December. A scenario (Ladies) teams in Meath have got used to. Early Christmas presents. In Meath’s case, an All Ireland IFC win. On the club scene, that meant our history making ladies capturing the Leinster Club SFC this time last year.

This year, December action from a Meath perspective was mixed. Castletown followed in the footsteps of several other Royal County representatives in winning the Leinster Club JFC.

In the Intermediate, Dunshaughlin were desperately unlucky not to emulate the likes of Nobber, Trim, St Colmcille’s, Wolfe Tones and posslbly others. Richie Kealy’s side were edged out by St Mogue’s of Wexford. In a match they really should never have been asked to play in the prevailing circumstances following the untimely passing of Richie’s sister Maria.

However, back to the most recent Super Sunday when Watty Graham’s GAA from Glen in Co Derry dethroned Ulster and All Ireland Club football champions, Kilcoo of Down.

That said, it was the usurpation of erstwhile hurling kingpins Ballygunnar from Waterford which prompted the tapping down of this post. Well, that and a certain other Final which was taking place in conditions as far removed from Croke Park in December as could be.

TJ Reid, Lionel Messi and Kyllian Mbappe have probably never been mentioned in the same sentence before, but here we are. Because this particular wintry Sunday revolved around three superstars, a plethora of penalties and fairytales which may not yet be finished.

Still going strong: TJ Reid

Let’s start with TJ. Sometimes you wonder can much more be written about this generation of Kilkenny hurlers but from a journalist’s perspective they are the gift that keeps on giving. I suppose personally, the big ponderable for me is how do lads like TJ – who has done everything there is to do in the game multiple times over – maintain the hunger to want to do it all again?

Perhaps, though, the answer is already in the question. Not being from a county or club that’s used to winning, it’s not something that I can easily fathom. Whereas to them it’s robotic almost. Yes, they lose matches occasionly, but those reversals are catalogued for later use.

At which point they are deconstructed, then dissected and forensically analysed. To pinpoint where exactly the rogue DNA managed to infiltrate their defences which culminated in them getting beat.

Then, whatever equivalent GAA teams have to a pit crew come in and administer whatever tweaks and twists are required to get the machine chugging along on cue again.

It is my honest belief, and has been for a long time, that serially successful teams at county and club level are of a certain status in all but name.

It will most likely dawn on somebody someday and the great fable can finally be buried. Moving on, teams like Ballyhale – to steal Jim Gavin’s favourite line – very much trust the processes. Part of which, this year at least, included computing the hurt of Ballygunnar’s smash-and-grab raid and, on a much more personal and poignant level, the death of Paul Shefflin, brother to Henry.

Even with all of that, mind you, and having personnel with superstar CV’s on nearly every line on the field, it still fell to TJ to haul them over the line. He wasn’t alone in excelling of course, with Dean Mason, Richie Reid, Adrian Mullen, Colin Fennelly and, in particular, Eoin Cody all to the fore.

Ultimately, though, it was a tale of two penalties. One brilliantly saved by Stephen O’Keeffe in the ‘Gunnar goal, the second buried by TJ. However, as Mr Mbappe found out far away from Croker, converting spot kicks doesn’t always guarantee anything.

That said, the PSG forward can absolutely hold his head aloft. In the early stages, Messi and his colleagues ran Didier Des Champ’s charges ragged, with the little magician netting a (softly awarded) spot kick and a fine finish from Angel di Maria.

Messi: The greatest beyond any doubt now

This corner will openly admit that, half way through the second half of the game in Qatar, the channel was changed in expectation that the matter was as good as settled. Until, that is, her indoors came running into the office proclaiming that Mbappe had netted twice and overtime was afoot.

However, maybe it was only to be expected that there would be a drop off in productivity in the additional period. Especially from a French perspective, given the energy and resources expended getting themselves to salvation.

Thus, there was almost an inevitability about it ending up going to penalties. Mind you, what did surprise this corner was the sight of both teams having their two leaders first up in the duel at sunset. Now in one way it makes perfect sense, get out of the stalls quick and get a foothold. Against that, though, there’s also logic in holding a big hitter in case you run into trouble in the trenches.

I’m sure France regret not doing so now. On their side, they at least have the knowledge that Mbappe has at least two more incarnations of soccer’s greatest tournament left in him. In all probability, that was Messi’s last outing at a major competition, though it is both brilliant and intriguing to hear Lionel Messi say he wants to play on with Argentina.

Which brings our story back to TJ. At the beginning of this serving of my thoughts, the point was made that it can often be hard to find the adjectives to articulate to accomplishments of hurlers in Kilkenny, yet they continually require us to expand our vocabulary.

Not that anybody could or would have any objection to having him on their team, but, TJ is my kind of hurler. A throwback centre forward. Cut from the same cloth as John Power and John Troy and PJ O’Connell. Except, with respect to the aforementioned, TJ has all that and vaults more.

Without even mentioning his gargantuan scoring numbers or voracious workrate for a man in his 36th year, it is his prowess in the air which will forever mesmerise this viewer.

With Ballyhale having prolonged their 2022 season into ’23, you’d imagine Derek Lyng – he of the poisoned chalice of taking over from the great one in the baseball cap – will at least ask as to his availability for active service.

We can but hope!

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