IT MIGHT have been his first year to experience the media scrum of Kilkenny’s All-Ireland press night, but Richie Power showed experience when it came to answering questions.
“Things are going well,” he said, when asked about the side’s preparations. “We’re training hard at the moment, we’re preparing as we have over the last couple of years. Now we’re just counting down the days to the final.”
The Carrickshock man gave a little laugh when he was told that he had been well versed in the art of giving stock answers!
“This (the interviews and media attention) is just part of the whole thing,” he said smiling. “The build-up to the final is something you have to savour; you never know, it could be the last All-Ireland you play in.”
One of the players who came in at the right time – a talented generation who kept the golden age of Kilkenny hurling flowing – Power has enjoyed great success with the Cats.
“There are a few of us who were lucky enough to come into the senior set-up off the back of the 2002/03 minor team (since joining the panel in 2005 Power has won four senior and two under-21 All-Ireland titles, not to mention seven Leinster, three NHL medals and an All-Star).
“Since 2006 we have contested the All-Ireland final every year,” he added. “That’s been great, but it doesn’t take from the hard work that you put in January and February – you put in a hard slog when you go back in the early months but you get your rewards when you’re running out on the first Sunday in September.”
Parts of that last commented echoed words spoken by selector Martin Fogarty – training when the frost is a few inches thick on the ground! But even after all these years, the success goes back to the hard work of the early months in the year.
“It’s a true saying – the hard work is done between January and March,” Power pointed out. “There are nights when it’s so cold and you’re up to your ankles in muck that you have to wonder what you’re putting yourself through, but I have no doubt that without it we wouldn’t be where we are.”
Even after all the work, he’s still enjoying it.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m only 25, so I’m enjoying it now as much as I did the first day I joined the panel. Getting to All-Irelands really makes it.”
After all the success, last year was the low point for Power and his colleagues.
“Last year was a massive disappointment,” he recalled. “Looking back on the final we didn’t hurl that badly; a lot of people said after the game that Kilkenny didn’t perform on the day but I thought there were a lot of good things from the day and positives we could take from our performance.
“Tipp got the goals on the day, something that practically won the game, but you have to bottle the hurt of a defeat and bring it with you next year. Then, when the crunch comes in a really big game, it helps you remember that you don’t want to go through it again.”
Even after all the success, the hunger is still there in the side; not even the defeat of 2010 could diminish that.
“Losing an All-Ireland is not the spur you need to keep the hunger there, but we know that this is not going to last forever,” he said. “You need to make the most of these days when you can. I remember James McGarry saying that you win everything while you can, because your hurling career might only last ten years – you have to win as much as you can, and savour it all.”
Wise words from the ‘old man of 25’ - did he say the same to the younger lads on the panel?
“The new guys who have come in have made a great impact on the team,” he said. “They have freshened things up, something we did when we came into the side in 2005/06. It really adds to the strength of the panel, but you really have to work hard if you want to make it at this level; without the hard work you won’t contest All-Ireland finals. We’ve worked exceptionally hard over the last couple of years and thankfully that has brought its rewards.”
Now in its third year the Kilkenny and Tipp series has helped raise the standard of hurling. Power agreed with the idea, but believes that more counties are ready to copy the blueprint.
“We have been lucky enough to have been there over the years,” he said. “At the beginning it was Kilkenny v Cork, now people are talking about Kilkenny and Tipperary.
“However, there are a lot of teams there ready to make the breakthrough,” he warned. “Dublin had a phenomenal year under Anthony Daly. Galway are there, while Limerick have made the step-up to Division One in the league. Tipp raised the bar last year with their performances, while this year they have been the form team. We know we have it all to do.”
From that point of view Power expects a competitive championship next year.
“Going back a few seasons people said Kilkenny were going to come out of Leinster every year,” he said. “You look now you have Dublin and Galway in the reckoning, while Offaly and Wexford are coming back with their under-age systems. It augurs well for Leinster hurling, as people have been critical of the province and saying the Munster championship was the main one. I believe the Leinster championship will become a big thing over the next few years – it will be good for teams who want to go on and win All-Irelands as they’ll have had so many tough games.”