“When I first saw the injury, it looked dreadful, but the real knock-out blow didn’t arrive until the specialist examined it. I knew by his body language that things were not good. The injury took on a life of its own, and I am where I am, facing into an All-Ireland replay with nothing to offer but encouragement,” writes Barrie Henriques.
All-Star Michael Rice is never less than genuine, ever pragmatic, a realist.
We spoke of the horrific injury he received against Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final, and his efforts to get it sorted. That won’t be done this year. He is looking to 2013.
How we moaned the loss of the Carrickshock man in the drawn game against Galway. Many in the 82,000 crowd would be of the opinion that Michael Rice’s absence from the midfield areas was crucial. His abilities to play the postman role had been central to Kilkenny’s march to honours over the past two seasons.
Who will ever forget his display in the final of two years ago? It was pure gold.
The complete trainer
Rice is tough, strong, well-balanced and hugely talented. Recently one of his colleagues in an interview said he was the most perfect hurler he knew, making the point that he does everything he can possibly do correctly. He has a reputation for being the complete trainer, never leaving any element to chance.
He certainly does not moan. What was it like now facing into the replay?
“One word I found I was using more frequently than others was frustration,” he replied. “We were trained to within a inch of perfection, and I was sitting on the bench with nothing but hope, frustration and nervous energy. It was not a nice place, or a good place to be.”
Having made the statement, Michael then self accosted by saying: “But sure it is only hurling. There are much more serious problems being addressed by so many more people than Michael Rice having to sit out an All-Ireland final.”
And then as if by way of a curved ball, he just matter of factly said: “But it was the most important day of my life at that time.”
“I am not the first, and I most certainly will not be the last hurler or footballer that was forced out of a final through injury,” he continued. “Brian Hogan knew all about it in 2010. Michael Rice is now experiencing the same disappointment.”
The All-Ireland final replay has far-reaching considerations and implications. Of course the most important element is the players disappointment, and the consequent unavailability to his team. But there are always other people involved, be they family, wives, girlfriends or whatever.
In Michael’s case, I’m quite sure that his mam, Katie, his dad Stephen, his brother Jim and his fiancé Catherine are feeling every pang of frustration and hopelessness that is presently visiting him. The many who helped over the years to get Michael Rice to where he is, will be feeling dreadful about his predicament.
Thanks for concern
Of course, his Carrickshock parishioners will feel his frustration, and pain.
“For sure it is probably harder on the great people around me,” Michael said when he took up the story. “They have to live the emotional disappointment of me not being able to line out. They are all physically well, thank God, but it is only natural that they would want to share my frustrations, they would want to share my pain. I appreciate their support.
“I would like to thank everyone who contacted me to offer kind words. They were not all from Kilkenny either. I have had tremendous good wishes from hurling people the length and breath of the land, including hurlers from Galway. I sincerely appreciate their words. The GAA family is an awesome organisation for sure.”
What kind of thought processes race through the mind of a Michael Rice on All-Ireland final day?
“It is not easy, and certainly not what you would want to happen if you had a choice,” he replied. “I know myself that if I was out there I would make a hundred mistakes, but the lads will be doing the best possible job they can. They will make mistakes, but they will be genuine mistakes.”
And then a typical line: “Sure if I were out there, very little would be different anyway.”
His analysis of the drawn game!
“Galway drove on in the first half, and we drove them back in the second. The draw was a fair result.”
His involvement with the squad is still massive, even though his injury has been such that the surgeon has not cleared his release from medical care to return to his teaching post in St Kieran’s College.
“I’m still going into training and doing a little,” Michael revealed. “Brian (Cody) and the lads have been very supportive. Mick (Dempsey) uses me to collect a few cones and yokes (laughing). But I still feel very much a part of the movement on the road.”
Will Kilkenny win?
“There is no such thing as a bad Galway team. They have great hurlers, who play a different game to many other counties. They will present us with a big task.
“Our response has to be very focussed, very positive and absolute. It will be tight, but I think we might just shade it. Was it Tommy (Walsh) said to you recently that a half point will do? I’ll have the other half point to get us over the line in front.”