Two Reids and a Fennelly: How Ballyhale’s rich scoring seam has backboned success

Three of the Kilkenny side are looking to claim a seventh Leinster medal on Sunday

They were newbies once, believe it or not. Fifteen years ago, on the sort of grey afternoon they would come to call home, Ballyhale Shamrocks trotted out from under the stand in Wexford Park to play Rathnure.

They had spent the week celebrating their first Kilkenny title since 1991 and so for all of them, this was a first ever foray into the Leinster club championship. They had never seen it before. As we would all come to realise, it hadn't seen much like them either.

At wing forward that day was a slight young lad in a billowing green jersey, still three days short of his 19th birthday. TJ Reid didn't wear the glove in those days – his only adornment was a blue wristband that matched the blue stripe on his white helmet. But he scored two points from play in a stylish display, supplementing it with an early run and pass that put Henry Shefflin in for Ballyhale's first goal.

At full forward was his older brother Eoin. Not much older, admittedly – but at 21, he was at least a college boy with a couple of Fitzgibbon Cup medals to his name down at Waterford IT. Eoin had spent the year on the fringes of the Kilkenny panel and was an unused sub in the All-Ireland final. Against Rathnure, he led the line impressively and sniped two points of his own.


With about a quarter-hour left on the clock, Colin Fennelly came off the bench, all flailing legs and arms. He was still a minor and would be again the following year – he had only turned 17 that August. He replaced his older brother Michael who had been feeling ill for much of the week going into the game, slotting in at wing forward and sending TJ to midfield alongside Cha Fitzpatrick. Fennelly raised a late white flag to bump out the seven-point victory.

Look what happened. Fifteen years. Nine Leinster campaigns. Six Leinster titles. Twenty matches, 18 wins (two of them after extra-time). Just two defeats – to Birr in the 2007 final and to Oulart-the-Ballagh in the 2012 semi-final. They haven't lost a match in the Leinster Championship since that Oulart game nine Decembers ago. And if they beat Clough-Ballacolla on Sunday, the three of them will join Brian Whelahan as the only men with seven Leinster club medals.

Of the three of them, Eoin Reid is the only ever-present, having played at least some part in every one of those 20 matches. At 36, his role these days is generally as a second-half sub but between 2006 and 2019, he was the only Ballyhale player to start every game in the Leinster championship.

And with good reason. Down all the years, there have only been two games in the province where the elder Reid didn't pitch in with at least one score. The first came in the 2014 victory over Kilmacud Crokes, the second came three weeks ago against Mount Leinster Rangers. Otherwise, he has generally always been worth a few scores, amassing a total of 5-31 in those 20 matches, all of it from play.

When it comes to actual minutes on the pitch, the younger Reid leads the way. TJ has played in 19 of those 20 matches and is as crucial to them now as a newly-married, just turned 34-year-old as he ever was. His only absence down the years was for the 2012 campaign, which he missed having cracked his kneecap in the All-Ireland final replay against Galway. It is probably no huge shock that 2012 was also their shortest campaign, the only one that was over after one game.

Over the years, his scoring totals have ballooned. He gradually took over the frees from Shefflin and became the surest shot in the game. The club championships, with their often unreasonable weather and games that have to be dug out of the dirt, put a higher premium than ever on dead-ball striking. So much of Ballyhale’s success has been built on his shoulders as a result.

TJ Reid goes into this final having scored 7-114 in Leinster campaigns over the past 15 years. Of that total, 6-47 has come from play, with the rest of it down to his metronomy from frees, 65s, sidelines balls and a single pointed penalty against St Martin’s in 2019. Add it all up and he has accounted for a shade over 28 per cent of Ballyhale’s scores in Leinster since 2006.

Fennelly’s numbers are a small bit lighter, only because he was that couple of years younger starting off. He has featured in 18 of Ballyhale’s 20 games, the first two as a substitute. He’s been a starter in every Leinster match since the 2008 final victory over Birr and his particular USP for Ballyhale has been his goals.

Fennelly is responsible for almost a quarter of the goals they've scored while making the provincial championship their plaything – nine of their 38 green flags are his doing, including a memorable 4-4 against Naomh Éanna in 2018.

From a standing start, Ballyhale Shamrocks have taken the Leinster club championship to new heights over the past decade and a half. Two Reids and a Fennelly have been there every step of the way. They will make fine company for a true great like Whelahan if they pick up their seventh title tomorrow.