Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# reflections
Rallying from two broken kneecaps, keeping All-Ireland-winning boss, and handshake 'mess-up'
Katie Power had an impressive 2022 campaign after struggling with injuries in recent years.

IT WAS A huge honour for Katie Power to receive the honour of being Kilkenny’s on-field captain this year.

katie-power-lifts-the-duffy-cup James Crombie / INPHO Kilkenny's Katie Power lifts the O'Duffy Cup after Kilkenny's victory. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The Piltown star, who had never held the distinction before, was tasked with leading the team whenever their squad leader Aoife Prendergast of the Dicksboro club was not selected to start. Power got her first real taste of the captaincy role in Kilkenny’s All-Ireland semi-final victory over Galway, and carried out the job again in the decider against Cork earlier this month.

Her second performance was particularly memorable, and later became a lighthearted footnote on Kilkenny’s triumph. Before throw-in, Power was required to introduce President Michael D Higgins to each of her Kilkenny teammates as part of the pre-match ceremony. She began the greetings with a momentary lapse of concentration when she held out her own hand to Kilkenny goalkeeper, and longtime clubmate, Aoife Norris.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” she begins in conversation with The42 almost three weeks on from her county’s second All-Ireland victory in the last three years.

“I’m getting some stick for it. I was going up on the bus and hadn’t really thought about meeting the President or anything. It was a bit of a blur but it was some mess-up, I’ll probably never be asked to do anything again.

You can only laugh at it. She’s a clubmate of mine and I’ve nearly grown up with her, so it’s not as if I never met her before.

“There’s no other game when you have those formalities and everyone loves to do them because it’s an honour to meet the President and to walk behind the Artane band. The girls were laughing so that was probably a good sign that they weren’t too nervous. I’ll take credit for that.”

“Aoife has been an unbelievable captain and has probably been the best captain I’ve played under in Kilkenny. It was an honour to lead out the team in the semi-final to lead the team. The formalities are probably a bigger thing for my family and my club, to see me leading the team around in the parade.”

Power was a notable absentee in Kilkenny’s last All-Ireland success in 2020. That was a unique title to capture as the championship was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, culminating in a December All-Ireland final at a crowdless Croke Park. At the time, Power was on crutches having undergone surgery for a broken kneecap.

It was her second time to suffer such an injury after breaking her other kneecap some seven years previously. In recent years, Power has also been forced to contend with persistent hand and finger injuries which have disrupted her campaigns.

The 2022 season has been her first peaceful run of matches after a long spell of agony.

“It feels like a completely different lifetime. I was having a really tough time both mentally and physically. But the last two years have definitely been a big rollercoaster with my injuries. To be on the pitch this year at all, and to be able to contribute to what we’ve achieved is a bit surreal for me after everything that I’ve come through.

“It just makes it all worth while, thinking about the final whistle and meeting my family after the game. Everyone sees the good days but not many people see the bad days and my family were always the people that were there to keep me going. Meeting them after the game was the highlight of the year for me, and the pride on their faces. It summed it all up.

“I would have given anything to play in the 2020 All-Ireland final. Even last year, there were stages when I didn’t know. I was back and then I wasn’t back. I really struggled last year with the pain and even just trying to train properly. It was completely up and down and at the end of last year, I was saying, ‘Will I ever actually get back properly?’ 

“Someone was saying to me after the [2022] All-Ireland that I mightn’t have had such a decent year [without the injury]. My move out to midfield was probably because of the injury and I wouldn’t have been playing there without it.”

The Kilkenny camogie team has been struck by adversity and tragedy throughout the 2022 season. They lost some key players to retirement at the outset of the year, as Collette Dormer and Davina Tobin stepped away. Meighan Farrell also left to go travelling while Kellyann and Aoife Doyle were both struck down by the dreaded cruciate injury.

Manager Brian Dowling lost his uncle Oliver Brennan in a house fire in March, just two weeks after coach Tommy Shefflin suffered the tragic sudden death of his brother, Paul. Other members of the Kilkenny panel also grieved for the loss of family members.

“It was like things were just being thrown at us week after week,” says Power about the tragedies that impacted her team this year.

But everything that was thrown at us actually made us stronger and we knew that we were going to do it for each other, whether it’s management or the girls on the team. We were so tight-knit and I’ve never come across anything like it before.

“Things were thrown at us in the Galway and Cork games and things weren’t going well, but there was always someone different to pop up. Sophie O’Dwyer popped up with the goal in the All-Ireland final and she might never have been heard of outside Kilkenny before the final, and she scored the winning goal. So, things like that definitely did bring us together and there were definitely people looking down on us the last few weeks and months.

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“The players that left were fantastic players but we felt as a group that we weren’t given much respect because everyone was saying that we’re not good enough without those players.

“But why would anyone say that we’re not good enough just because we’ve lost a few? The girls coming were young and new but everyone starts in that same position and the girls that have come in – they’re improvement has been incredible.”

brian-dowling-gets-a-picture-with-fans Evan Treacy / INPHO Kilkenny camogie boss Brian Dowling. Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Due to the revamped camogie calendar, Power has just come home from a summer holiday with the inter-county championship now firmly packed away. She spent a few days in Barcelona and Italy before returning home for club duty with Piltown.

The post-All-Ireland final celebrations have been dialled down as a result, but the 2023 season is already heading for a positive start following the news that Dowling is set to stay on as manager for a fourth year.

“It’s a bit of a relief because we were wondering what would happen,” says Power.

“He’s probably a man in demand now because of what he’s achieved with us in the last three years. Two All-Irelands and a league title is not to be sniffed at so we’re thrilled. The whole management works really well together and there’s a lot of different characters there. We’re delighted to have him back.”

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