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'She gave me her business card and said, 'Ring me'': A Kilkenny call from a 12-time All-Ireland winner

Katie Power speaks to The42 about playing for Cats legend Ann Downey.

KATIE POWER COULDN’T sleep.

upmc-nowlan-park-launch Kilkenny forward Katie Power Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

The transition year student, who has since gone on to achieve All-Ireland success with Kilkenny, had just had a chance encounter with a legend of the county.

They don’t come much more distinguished than 12-time All-Ireland winner Ann Downey. She’s Cats royalty, and one half of an iconic duo in camogie circles. Her twin sister Angela is the other half, who is also the proud owner of 12 All-Ireland medals.

Power didn’t know much about the legacy of the Downeys when she was young. Kilkenny’s perennial All-Ireland winning heroes were her idols growing up in the noughties.

But at 16 years of age, she certainly knew all about Ann Downey’s status in sport. And when she was approached by the woman herself after playing a minor game, there were stars in her eyes.

“I was still U16 and I was playing U18 with Kilkenny,” Power tells The42 about that first meeting with Downey.

After the game, she gave me her business card and said, ‘Give me a ring tomorrow’.

“She had her mobile number on it. I was absolutely buzzing off my head. And then I was like, ‘How am I even gonna ring her? What do I say?’

“I was even buzzing to be on the U18 team. At that time, we [Kilkenny] probably weren’t as strong so they were bringing a good few of us on at that age. It was unbelievable.”

katie-power Power in action for Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

It was clear that Downey was recruiting Power for the Kilkenny seniors, and the youngster was eager to accept the invitation. 

Her parents had a mixed reaction to the news. Power’s father was thrilled while her mother was concerned that this opportunity had come about a bit prematurely for their teenage daughter.

But those doubts did nothing to contain Power’s excitement.

I definitely didn’t sleep that night and then even my mam was like, ‘Oh maybe you should leave it, you’re very young’. And my dad was like, ‘No way, she’s definitely going up’. It was class.

“I was obviously just training with the seniors and then you have your club as well, U16 and minor. It was mad.”

Joining the Kilkenny seniors was a major transition for Power. Going through the underage grades, the Piltown clubwoman had never experienced anything other than success. 

ann-downey Downey has had a huge impact on Power's camogie career. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

She had never lost a game and winning was a natural habit for her. Complacency is an obvious danger for athletes who win with such ease, and Power admits that there was a hint of an ego in her mindset at that stage of her camogie career.

“Probably thinking back on it, embarrassingly, yeah probably,” she says when asked about the presence of an ego back then.

“Unbeknownst to ourselves, we were probably going to get carried away with ourselves, I won’t say confident.

“And then when you came up to senior, you were lucky to even get a touch of the ball.

So I suppose in terms of attitude, she completely changed my attitude. I would have always been someone who [said] ‘Just give me the ball’.”

It’s clear that Downey had a huge impact on Power during her four-year stint as Kilkenny manager. The respect and admiration is etched on her face.

At times during our conversation, tears start to glisten in her eyes as she reminisces on her days of playing for Downey, and the sense of loss she feels now that her mentor has stepped away.

It was Downey who helped inspire a new way of thinking in Power during those teenage years. 

The former Lisdowney and St Paul’s player preached about the importance of humility and respect.

And Power quickly discovered that this fresh perspective was something she needed to mature as a player and a person.

“You’re 16 years of age, Ann Downey is in there. She’d say jump and you’d say, ‘How high?’

Just in respect within our group, she taught me so much to be so respectful to everybody else [to] management, my parents, the club. I will never be so grateful to someone for that.

“Because if she wasn’t there I might never have learned those lessons.

“She’d be just stern and she would say what has to be said. When you’re younger, you’re only a teenager and trying to find your feet in life as well. But after it you’d be thinking, ‘Jesus, why was I acting up?’

“She’d put you in your place and it was either you want to be here or you don’t.”

Downey told the squad about her decision to step down in the moments after their third straight All-Ireland final defeat this year. They had gone to the well once more and had come up short.

Downey felt it was time for her to go and allow a fresh voice come in to carry the team forward. Downey’s twin Angela was involved in the Kilkenny set-up during Ann’s time in charge as was their former Kilkenny team-mate Breda Holmes.

ann-downey Downey stepped down as Kilkenny manager after the All-Ireland final. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Power is delighted to hear that they will be staying to work with the new manager Brian Dowling for 2020, and understands Ann’s reasons for taking a step back.

“The [All-Ireland final] loss itself was hugely disappointing but I think when she had said that, the tears and the disappointment became kind of worse and harder for everyone.

She had to do it for herself. She’s been there for a long time. But I’m sure she’ll be there with us the whole time.

“We’re delighted that Angela and Breda have stayed with us because [we've] a bit of continuity with them.

“They know us and know what it’s like inside. They’re so well respected within our group so we’re absolutely delighted to still have them.”

As for that All-Ireland final defeat to Galway, Power hasn’t watched the game back yet. She knows she probably should sit down to go through the footage, but she can’t stomach it right now.

Three All-Ireland final defeats in a row is a lot to take, but Power has no complaints about the 3-14 to 0-17 result. 

And as the 2020 season draws near, she’s already preparing to scale the mountain again with Kilkenny.

“They were the better team and the better team always wins,” she says bluntly.

“For those few weeks, I just put it to the back of my head, focused on club, got to the county final, lost that of course. And then it probably all comes together. It does get tougher but it’s either give up and never try again or stay going.

There’s no point in giving up.”

Katie Power was speaking at the official announcement of UPMC’s ten-year naming right partnership with Kilkenny GAA that sees the home of Kilkenny GAA renamed UPMC Nowlan Park.

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