watching the wheels

'To be honest about it, there were tears': Richie Power on coming to terms with walking away

The eight-time All-Ireland winner announced his inter-county retirement in January but coming to terms with it has been tough.

RICHIE POWER HAD just had his third operation in ten months when the surgeon who performed the procedure dropped the bombshell.

He told the eight-time All-Ireland winner and two-time Allstar, that he would, more than likely, never play for Kilkenny again.

“To be honest about it, there were tears in the room”, Power says.

I sat there for a few minutes thinking ‘Did he actually say it?’ There was anger, there was disbelief. Driving back up the road, I rang our team doctor Tadhg Crowley and asked if he’d mind finding out just why they came to this conclusion. He rang me back that night and told me that it was, more or less, the right call and that if I continued to go training at the top level for the next year or two, the likelihood is that the knee would just break. So you’re looking at a knee replacement at 32 years of age and no one wants to face into that.”

That was last October, just weeks after he had made a twelve-minute cameo in the Cats’ four-point victory over Galway – their 36th All-Ireland title.

In January, Power announced his retirement from inter-county hurling but he had known for months. It just took him some time to properly get his head around it.

Richie Power has a puck around with his son Rory after the game Richie Power pucks around with his son, Rory, after the 2015 All-Ireland win over Galway. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

“You don’t expect to be told that, at 30, the likelihood is I may never run again”, says the Carrickshock clubman.

“I was still holding out hope after being told. I was thinking in my own head ‘This can’t be right’. I travelled the length and breadth of the country seeing different people – even Tadgh Kennelly arranged for me to meet the Aussie Rules doctors. Unfortunately, they all came to the one conclusion and that led to the decision being made.”

He desperately wants to return to action later this year. What’s driving him is the possibility of getting back to his roots. But he’s aware of the risk. In the last fourteen years, he’s had six operations on his knee. There’s no cartilage left anymore. It’s just bone grinding against bone. His training is restricted to gym work – the bike and the pool – anything that can help build up the muscles around the knee. But push too hard, even at club level, and Power could break down again.

“That’s hard to take. I’m clutching at straws, maybe, trying to get back to the club”, he admits.

It’s a very frustrating process I’m going through, spending every night in the gym on my own. The lads are out on the field, going through the pre-season slog. Anger does creep in a lot of the time. But you just have to swallow it and move on. I’ve seen a couple of specialists and they’ve said it is possible to go back playing, say at a lower level. But you have to be very mindful and very specific in the training that you do.”

Power can trace the injury problems to two defining moments in his career. The first came as a teenager when he was training with St. Kieran’s College.

“That was when I had my first keyhole operation”, he says.

“They took cartilage out of my knee which they don’t do now – they try and reattach it. I was told that the minute they take cartilage out of the knee, it weakens it so maybe my problems started then – when I was sixteen. Once I graduated past under-21, I only really had two teams – the club seniors and the Kilkenny seniors. We were never over-trained. Do you call it bad luck? Or was it that the knee was gradually getting worse as the years progressed? I don’t know.”

Richie Power consoles Kieran Bergin Power consoles Tipp's Kieran Bergin following Kilkenny's 2014 All-Ireland victory. Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

In April last year, after tallying 2-01 in the 2014 All-Ireland win over Tipperary the previous September, he was faced with another setback.

“We played James Stephens’ in a club game on a real wet Friday evening. I don’t remember twisting or turning or getting a belt or anything like that. But walking off the field that night I was just crippled and that’s when it all really started for me. Whether it was constant wear and tear and suddenly the knee just couldn’t take any more, I don’t know. But that’s when the real hardship started.”

He dug deep to get back for the summer but a return date kept on being pushed further and further out. For five months, Power pushed himself in the gym every night. Two weeks before the All-Ireland, he still wasn’t sure he’d make the panel. But, against the odds, it worked out. Kind of. His eighth and final Celtic Cross will also feel a bit less than the others. Does he have regrets?

Definitely. If I’d have been told last January that my knee wasn’t in a good place and to take twelve months off, I would have done that if it meant prolonging my career for, maybe, another four or five years. But that wasn’t the case. I just kept going. I pushed my body too much, too hard, to try and get back for the championship. To put my body through everything last year and to get back for twelve minutes of an All-Ireland final…it’s probably a regret. Walking off the field, I certainly didn’t think it was going to be my last time in Croke Park. If I had taken twelve months off, who knows? Maybe the knee might have been in a better place than it is now. But we’ll never know.”

The Kilkenny class of 2016 don’t seem to be missing him too much. There was an opening day league defeat to Waterford but they’ve followed it up with back-to-back wins over Tipperary and Galway.

Next up is basement side Cork at Pairc ui Rinn on Saturday night.

Power isn’t surprised that the Kilkenny machine shows no signs of stopping, quick to point out that they’ve been here before.

“When we had the bulk of retirements after 2014, a lot of people were saying that there was no way this Kilkenny team could come back and win an All-Ireland. Kilkenny aren’t going to miss anyone from the team that started the All-Ireland last year only Ger Aylward. They’re going back defending their title with fourteen of the fifteen that played the All-Ireland last year.

“I’ve been used more impact-wise in the last two years. Something like that they might miss – someone coming in for the last 15 or 20 minutes of a game.”

Conor Lehane dejected Cork's Conor Lehane is dejected after suffering a confidence-sapping defeat to Dublin last weekend - their third successive league loss. They face Kilkenny on Saturday evening. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

And what of the troubled Rebels? Their intense rivalry with Kilkenny seems a long time ago now and with a mammoth 5-68 conceded from their three games so far and coming off the back of a demoralising defeat against Dublin, confidence is at an all-time low.

Power has been surprised by the regression.

“I go back to 2013 when they beat us in the quarter-finals in Thurles. I just said ‘These guys are here to stay’. They were a very young team and I can’t really understand how they haven’t made that progression.

But a lot of it is shadow boxing. You’re probably going to see a completely different Cork side come the first round of the championship and it’s going to be the same with every other team as well. I think most managers know 12 or 13 of their starting championship team already and are just seeing if there’s one or two that can make the step up too. Some teams, I think, are aiming for the championship.”

So is Power. His goal is to feature again for Carrickshock and he’s earmarking a return to club action in July or August.

He’s hungry for it. And he’s clinging to the possibility.

“Eleven years on the senior panel and fifteen with Kilkenny – it leaves a huge void.

Richie Power and his son Rory Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

But, it allows you to go back to the club scene and go back to the guys you’ve hurled your whole life with. It’s been great to get back and get involved but I just hope I can play towards the end of the year.

Every player looks forward to going back with their club when they retire. Talking to Tommy Walsh – it’s been a new lease of life for him. He’s always the first on the field before training – the same with Henry. I was hoping and looking forward to doing that because you’re away from the club for so many years – you don’t get to spend as much time with the club as you’d like. And if I have to walk away from both at the same time, it’s going to be a massive disappointment to me because you want to go back to your club and give something back.”

Richie Power was speaking at the launch of the An Post Cycle Series which runs between May and September this year with five events taking place around the country.

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