If final is a battle, it will suit Kilkenny down to the ground

Often I was accused of being over the top when writing or talking about one of the bravest, most courageous and dedicated hurlers I had ever befriended.

Often I was accused of being over the top when writing or talking about one of the bravest, most courageous and dedicated hurlers I had ever befriended.

His name is John Power, a proud son of Callan; a proud son of Kilkenny.

I never apologised for my stance, nor did I ever feel that I should. Now that All-Ireland hurling final time is upon us again, I sought out his opinion, knowing it would be an informative outing.

We know in Callan what an All-Ireland final like the one coming down the road encapsulates. Someone in Callan once remarked that meeting Tipp in an All-Ireland final was akin to a Civil War without the carbines.

Over the top there alright, but you get the idea. Fierce rivalry!

Things have mellowed with the passing of time, but not all that much it sometimes appears.

John was asked to evaluate brand Kilkenny 2014.

“This is a different team than 2013,” he said with certainty. “It seems to me, and knowing Brian (Cody) as I do, that his attitude has altered from 2013. We all know that he does not do sentimentality, and he picks the team he feels will do the job on the day as he sees it.

“I felt, and I could be very wrong, that he showed a little too much loyalty at times last year, but from the off this year there was a noticeable change. He brought in plenty of different players, some of them new to the senior county scene.

“Mark Kelly was a revelation early on. He looked a great find, and still is. Young Fogarty (Conor) in the middle of the field got a smell of what could be available, reacted the way Brian loves to see players doing, and an All- Ireland final appearance is there for him.

“Then there is young Joey Holden. He has grasped the chance, and we could see him trotting out too in his first senior All-Ireland.

“Only Brian (Cody) will have the final say on all of those matters, but those lads have put the pressure on him, and the other panellists, and that is what he wanted when he first gave them their chance.

“Everything has worked well since the start of 2014. The National League was won. The Leinster championship was brought back too, so there can be no complaints so far.

“That’s why I say that the mind-set this year is noticeably different.”

John has brushed with Tipperary many a time on the hurling field. He respects them. More to the point, they respect him like they respect few others. He was a warrior in the 1991 final.

His thoughts?

“I was in the form of my life going out that day,” he said, the thoughts burst through the warm smile on his face.

“It was a game we could have won. The injury (he ripped his hand on the wire that surrounded the pitch then) robbed me of what I felt was my destiny.

“I felt that I could beat Tipp on my own that day. I felt so good. But on reflection, the belief that we could win I feel was in short supply.

“I know the lads in 1967 banished the Tipp hoodoo, but none of our team was even born when that happened, so the self- belief when facing a Tipp team was still a factor. They had all the big names like English, Fox, Leahy, the Bonners’, Carr, Ryan and Cleary.

“But as Ollie (Walsh), God rest him, said on Monday night when we came home, ‘ye won the match but ye left the cup behind ye. Ye won’t do that next year’. We didn’t either.”

John felt that the closing 15 minutes of the semi-final against Limerick turning into a defining moment in the season for Kilkenny. The character shown by the players highlighted the wonderful ability of the team.

“We kept Limerick scoreless for 16 minutes,” he recalled. “When our backs were to the wall, the players refused to surrender. That was when I felt that we could beat anyone.

“If Sunday’s game is a battle, I feel that we will win it. I also feel that the tables have been turned with Tipperary. I feel that they are now in the same place as we were in 1991.

“Believe me, there is great value for Kilkenny in that. You have to absolute belief going into an All-Ireland final. Nothing less will do.

“There is not a chance on earth that we will give Tipp the room they got against Cork in their semi-final. I think we will win the war, and the game”.

Here’s another thing! John Power played against Limerick in the 1984 minor All-Ireland final that went to a replay. The Shannonsiders, who face Kilkenny in the under-18 decider, are supposed to be a super team.

“I was at all the minor games,” he told me. “We were very poor against Dublin first time out, but we picked it up well for the Leinster final. I saw the Waterford lads training in Dungarvan, and they were all talk about the All-Ireland final.

“I knew then that Kilkenny would beat them. There is no such thing as a super team at minor level, just a crowd of talented chaps starting out on their hurling careers.

“We might, we could, and hopefully we will win. It could be a great day all round for everybody from Kilkenny. I am hopeful, very hopeful.”