He had been plagued by injury this season, but Richie Power is once again at full throttle and fighting for a place in the starting fifteen.
The Carrickshock man has been on the Kilkenny senior panel for nine years, and the hunger to be the best he can be is greater than ever.
With the Liam MacCarthy Cup within grasping distance, Power is chasing his seventh All-Ireland title against opponents who he has faced on numerous occasions.
“It’s a healthy rivalry between Kilkenny and Tipperary,” he insisted. “Both teams bring out the best in each other, without a doubt. There’s been one or two incidents over the last few year,s but that’s hurling.
“Tipperary and Kilkenny games over the last ten years or so have been largely epics. They’ve been games that people have talked about for years.
“In the semi-final against Cork they showed that they have no weakness, and its up to us to try and find one or two.
“We just need to get ourselves to that level, and there will be very little between us on the day. Every time we’ve played one another there’s only been a puck of a ball between us.”
Games between Kilkenny and Tipperary have dominated the inter-county scene over the last number of years, with the sides having played each other every year since 2009.
“I suppose its just always a pure dogfight,” Power said of the long running saga. “Look back at League finals over the years, look at Nolan Park last year, All-Ireland finals in the past few years. There’s no one game that sticks out, but we know exactly what’s facing us.
“I think the big thing about Kilkenny is that at the start of every year when we get together, our goal is to be in Croke Park on the first weekend in September. I guarantee that it’s no different from Limerick, Dublin, Galway, Offaly, Wexford, or any other county.”
Having run into bad luck and suffered an unlucky injury in the drawn game against Galway, Power made his return as a substitute in the All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick. Introduced in the closing stages, he had a huge impact as he grabbed a goal and caused constant trouble for the Limerick full back line.
Originally many thought that Eoin Larkin got the vital flick to direct the ball into the net. Power claimed the score.
“I think Larky has claimed it for the last couple of weeks, but video analysis has proven I got the touch so I’ll take this one,” Power smiled. “Its my first score of the championship. He’s after getting a few already, so I’ll claim it.”
Clear through on goal in the dying minutes of the game, Power was tripped up as he went to strike. He surely would have ended the game as a contest.
“I don’t remember much to be honest, I just remember breaking through,” he said of the incident. “I didn’t think a Limerick player would catch me because Seamus Hickey was after falling and I thought I had a clear path to goal.
“I was getting ready to catch the ball and shoot and then suddenly I was on the ground. These things happen though. If Limerick had won the match, even sneaked a goal at the end, Wayne (McNamara) would be a hero now. But these things happen in sport, I didn’t dwell on it.”
the hurt of losing
When Kilkenny and Tipperary played out a thriller in the 2010 All-Ireland final, the Cats came off the worst in what was their only championship defeat to Tipperary in the past six years.
The build up to this year’s final has a somewhat similar feeling to that of four years ago according to Power.
“For Tipp it has a real feel of 2010, with the momentum that’s building behind them,” the former All-Star suggested. “I know before the 2010 All-Ireland that everyone was talking about the five in-a-row, but it never crossed my mind.
“All I remember is sitting on the field with Eoin Kelly lifting the ’Cup. It’s one of the worst feelings you can experience.
“That sort of thing drives you on the next time. It makes you want to come back stronger. We left Thurles last year after being beaten by Cork bitterly disappointed. I think a lot of people thought that was the end of this team.
“That has been maybe a driving factor for a lot guys too. That hurt a lot of guys. It made them come back hungrier and fitter this year. Again its driven into us by management. I suppose the philosophy is that any year you don’t win an All-Ireland is looked upon as a failure.
“I just look back on the 2010 final as a defeat. The massive, huge, huge satisfaction was coming back the next year and winning. I think that is what I look back on. You never want to have regrets. Now is the same.”
Following the Limerick game, much of the analysis was on how the Kilkenny team celebrated at the final whistle, showing how much being in the final means.
“You look at the likes of J.J., Jackie, Tommy, Henry, they’ve done everything they possibly could in the game. The heart and attitude they have drives on the other players.
“The hurt of the 2010 final really really drove us on. I suppose after losing that game everyone was talking about this Tipp team as the new team that was going to come through and dominate. But we didn’t want that to happen.
“The game last year against Tipperary was massive for us, being in Nowlan Park and so on. Winning it, after losing to Dublin, was a huge achievement. No one can ever say we were not able to pick ourselves up after a disappointment.”