IT WASN’T the champagne that was on ice after Kilkenny’s All-Ireland semi-final win over Tipp on Sunday - it was the players!
Richie Power was one of those taking advantage of an ice machine that was working overtime, the full-forward showing the signs of a bruising 70 minutes.
“It was a very, very tough battle out there,” he said, nursing an ice pack on some sore ribs. “We expected that coming up and prepared fierce well for that game. We knew that it was going to take an awfully big performance to get past Tipp, which thankfully we got.”
The intensity of the game was there for all to see, not least from the number of players who duked it out in a no-holds-barred style within seconds of the throw-in. With so much on the line, Power wasn’t surprised. “You always have that at the start of a championship game, especially an All-Ireland semi-final,” he said. “We took the good with the bad and stood up to Tipp. Once the game settled we got into our plan and did what we set out to do.”
That plan involved an early goal, which Kilkenny duly got. But Tipp didn’t lie down.
“We were five points up at one stage in the first half and then ended up going in a point down at the interval,” Power recalled. “We regrouped at half-time and spoke about what we wanted from the game - everyone saw in the first 10 minutes of the second half what it was we had talked about. The intensity was incredible, everyone fighting for every ball and each other, which was the main thing.”
Incredibly, Kilkenny rattled off 3-15 in the final 35 minutes of the game to Tipp’s five points. Even more incredibly, Power didn’t realise they had run up such a tally!
“I didn’t know it was that much,” he said. “It was incredible, but I think a big part was that lads gave the ball to players who were in the better positions to put it over the bar. It didn’t matter who got the goals or the points, we all worked hard for each other. That showed out there.”
That was the big difference between the teams. While Tipp’s forwards were distracted, Kilkenny retained full focus.
“I don’t know what happened to Tipp’s plan, but we stuck to ours for the 70 minutes,” said Power. “That’s all you can do. The performance was proof of the effort put in by the lads, especially those who came in. Michael Rice went off with a bad injury, which was a huge loss, but he had some inspirational words for us at half-time. I think that really drove us on.”
Kilkenny didn’t need a team-talk, it seems. Those words from an injured colleague provided the real spur.
“It was heartbreaking for Michael,” said Power. “He has had such bad luck with injuries over the last few years and to come off on such a big stage was tough.
“You could see the emotion on his face and in his voice,” Power recalled. “It was a real eye-opener, as it showed what the game meant to him and everyone else in the dressing-room. I think that showed in the second half.”
Speaking of injury, Power was happy to report that he was never going to be a doubt for the game, even after being forced out of the Limerick quarter-final at an early stage.
“There was no danger that I’d miss the match,” he said. “The concern was that there might be a dip in form - that was the big worry I had coming in as the last few games hadn’t gone as well for me. I was determined to work as hard as I could for the team.”
It was that mention of work that brought images of the big day ahead.
“We have three weeks of tough work ahead of us now to prepare for the All-Ireland final with Galway,” he said “but we’ll look forward to every one of them.”
Not only have Kilkenny a record seventh successive All-Ireland to look forward to, they have another meeting with Galway. While some might see it as a chance to right a wrong, Power praised the Tribesmen for being the team who kick-started their charge to the decider.
“There’ll probably be a lot of talk in the media about us wanting revenge for losing the Leinster final, but at the end of the day it’s an All-Ireland final.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, it just happens to be Galway,” he added. “They gave us a lesson in hurling in the Leinster final, but who knows? Maybe that was a blessing in disguise.”