When my guest was asked after an All-Ireland final victory why it was he did not avail of the free round of golf in the elegant Mount Juliet Country Club with his team mates, he replied that there was only one way he would play Mount Juliet, and that was with a four-sod reversible (a very sophisticated plough).
He won four All-Irelands. He was the housewives choice like Lester Piggott in the Derby, and his trademark was his courage, Kilkennyness, and his mop of unkempt red hair.
In commentary, we referred to him as the “Red Lad”. Most knew him as the Kilbricken farmer.
His name, in case you are still in the dark, is John Power – Power by name and nature.
He was alighting from a Ford TM 154 - about 150 horse power - a big SOB, believe me.
“You’re busy, John,” I offered.
“Just finishing the corn now. If I see another bale (he had baled over 20,000 in five days) I’ll jump into the river,” he smiled.
He knows what it was like to lose an All Ireland to Tipperary. Remember 1991? He was in the wars that day. Blood pumping from his bandage-swathed hand. More gushed from his head.
Must be in good health
He alighted from the enormous tractor to engage in something he loves with a passion.....conversation about hurling. Looking like a Trade Centre survivor with corn dust masking every pore of his face, I asked him about his ideas as to how Kilkenny could win this final.
“For a start, we must arrive in Croke Park in the best health of our lives,” he shot back. “We just cannot afford to take chances, because this will be the last throw for some of the greatest hurlers this country has ever seen.
“This is a young Tipp team, and they have shown that they can rip any team asunder if they get a run on them. So we will need to be at the top of our game,” he added.
Of course he is looking forward to the match. How he would love to be running out with the lads. Alas, time and tide waits for no man and J.P. has had his day.
Has the run up to this final impressed him?
“The lads have done everything that they had to do,” he felt. “They were impressive in the Leinster final, but I felt that they were playing well within themselves. Against Waterford they were expected to win with a little left in the tank.
“They won quite easily, but it didn’t seem that there was much more left in the reserves. Maybe there was, but a repeat of the same kind of form won’t win the All Ireland. The cutting bar will have to be floored if the Tipp lads are to bite the dust.”
Did terrible damage
Amazing how every answer is equated to agrarian metaphor when one talks to John Power.
He is well aware of the threat of this evolving Tipperary team. He is well aware of the fire of the likes of Padraic Maher - “he did terrible damage to us last year”. He is a big admirer of Lar Corbett.
“There are even a few Tipperary lads who still have reservations about Lar, but when he grabs that ball, and he has a great paw, coupled with his speed, he is capable of ripping any defence apart,” said Power, a fair detail as an attacker in his day.
“When he moves out the field to collect the ball from his defenders, or start a run into space being created inside, he is terribly dangerous. He is a typical poocher. You won’t notice him. He gets in behind you in a flash, and suddenly the ball is in the net and you will have defenders saying “where in the name of j.... did he come from.”
You are an admirer?
“Sure his very first touch against Dublin beat Dublin. It was so typical. He barely touched the ball, and there it was creeping into the net; typical Lar,” he laughed.
“I sincerely hope that me ould sparring partner, Noel Hickey (he’s probably up to his oxter in bales and corn too) has a good game. I feel he will, and while we wouldn’t have won the 2009 All-Ireland but for him, I think that it will help Noel having his own clubman behind him.
Herity is very good
“Young Herity was very close to my man-of-the-match against Waterford. He is very quick off his line, and he is very sharp in his movement. Like James McGarry, he presents a big body to incoming forwards. He is doing exceptionally well”.
John felt that the toughness of John Tennyson, and his speed on the turn, will be a loss.
“People are saying too that the players will not have the result of last year in their minds. That’s a load of rubbish,” he insisted.
“Sure it is only human that they should. Sure they are not robots. I can guarantee you that deep down many of the lads for whom this might be the last throw of the dice will think about it. But I don’t think that is a bad thing either.
“You can bet that the Tipp lads will be thinking about it even more. They will be thinking about whether they can repeat the dose, or will they go down as the one-in-a-row champions. In fact, I feel that their thinking will be more worrying for them than the likes of Jackie or J.J. or Henry thinking about them,”, said he.
You feel that Kilkenny have a chance?
“No doubt in the world we have a chance,” he answered. “When you have lads like Noel (although he doesn’t need reminding about last year), Jackie, J.J., Henry, Tommy, Eoin and Richie in your team, you will always have a chance.
“Add in the likes of Mick Fennelly, Michael Rice, Richie Hogan (super talent), ‘Cha’, your chances are improving. Then we have the couple of fresh faces like Paul Murphy, Colin Fennelly and Paddy Hogan, so our chances are improving. And I haven’t mentioned Brian Hogan, Eddie Brennan nor T.J. Reid.
Tipp in a new place
“I remember a former great Kilkenny star telling me one time – don’t ever worry about the man marking you, because I can tell you that he is far more worried about you. The Tipp lads are in a place that is new to them.
“They are going to defend their honour, their name and their title. They have much more on their plate this time round. How will they react? The answer could win or lose a title. Our lads are coming in under the radar. I think we are in a good place,” he said.
Your final word?
“We have experience. We have brilliant hurlers. We have our hard-earned Kilkenny reputation. We will win by two points, or be well beaten. Roll on Sunday,” said one of the greatest pound-for-pound hurlers that ever pulled on a gansey.