Richie Power had been planning for a big season in 2016.
Surgery on a troublesome knee was going to sort him, open up boundless possibilities.
Instead, his world came crashing down.
“When I was told my career was over, I couldn’t believe it,” the Carrickshock hurling star insisted, his eyes popping to reveal a level of amazement that suggested he is still coming to terms with the news.
The wear on his left knee was beyond repair. A fifth operation on a knee that first required surgery when he was 15 revealed more deterioration and damage than had been anticipated.
As a result, he was advised to finish in a game he has graced with distinction for nearly half his life and in which he attained a level of achievement that left him on a par with the mighty Ring (Christy) and Doyle (John) and a number of his distinguished Kilkenny colleagues in the All-Ireland honours stake.
Power, who turned 30 on December 4, felt there could have been more gold to be mined, however. Now he leaves feeling short changed.
“I was struggling with the knee all year and was walking with a limp,” he told us when the news broke. “I knew something had to be done with regard to getting it right.”
His hurling during the 2015 season was confined to one full match with Kilkenny in the Jamie Wall fund-raiser in Cork and 12 minutes in the All-Ireland final against Galway, plus four outings with Carrickshock.
For the rest of the time the star attacker battled one knee injury after another, trying to meet or beat pressing big match deadlines.
So when all the action finished, he decided enough was enough, and opted for additional surgery to sort the knee out once and for all.
That was October. The prognosis was encouraging.
He had corrective procedures twice during the season, but with bone virtually on bone in the knee, apparently, there was no way the Carrickshock man could continue trying to beat the odds.
Leading orthopaedic surgeon, Mr Tadhg O’Sullivan, a great friend of Kilkenny hurling, tried to work his magic but according to Richie, the deterioration in the knee between July, when he had earlier surgery, and October was more serious than anyone expected.
The bad news was delivered on a Tuesday evening in Whitfield Clinic, Waterford, Richie remembered.
“To be given the news was a massive shock,” he said. “It was surreal. I didn’t really process what I had been told.
“I remember thinking, did he just say that? Did I hear him correctly?
“As it turned out, I had. I was very upset. On the drive home I put a call through to Dr Tadhg Crowley (the Kilkenny team doctor) to ask him to get clarification.
“The understanding I had was that I would be back hurling in 2016. I think that is what the surgical and medical team felt too. They didn’t expect to find what they found in my knee. The damage was beyond repair.”
It took him a few days to process the news and get over the shock. When he told his man (Ann) and dad (Richie) they were as shocked as he was.
He was encouraged to seek a second, third or even a fourth opinion. He did. He travelled to the Santry Sport Clinic in Dublin and to Belfast.
He even met the Aussie rules doctors, which was arranged by former Kerry footballer, Tadhg Kennelly, during their visit to Ireland for the International Rules series. Everywhere the message was the same.
“I exhausted every avenue looking for a different opinion, or outcome,” Richie revealed. “I was searching for a miracle, I suppose.”
He had three operation last year. One was in January, another in July and the last in October. The first one was needed after he went back training with Kilkenny and he jarred the knee at the end of a session. Scans showed cartilage damage.
Power got back training and played with Carrickshock in the first round of local League/Championship versus O’Loughlin’s.
“That was okay. I was glad to be going again,” he remembered.
Then he played against James Stephens. He couldn’t remember taking a knock or anything, but 10 minutes from the end he felt the knee getting sore, nothing much.
“When the final whistle went I went really, really lame and the knee was sore,” the twice All-Star recalled.
The Carrickshock club chairman, Tommy Murphy, even remarked to Richie that he was walking like an old man. He was in agony all night and the following day.
After consulting with the medical people, it was agreed to give the knee time to settle. It did, and he felt good. He went back training in May, but the knee flared up again.
The routine became rest, training, rest, training but to no avail. He missed the third round of club games and then made the decision with his doctors to have a minor procedure to clean out the knee again. Surgery was on the Tuesday before the Leinster final.
Richie was anxious to drive on, to chase the All-Ireland dream with Kilkenny. He was given a time frame that he might be back for the All-Ireland semi-final because the surgery wasn’t that invasive.
Things didn’t go exactly to plan, but he pushed on and got back on the playing field. He jarred the knee again.
Between the semi-final and All-Ireland final the knee settled well, although he was having fluid taken off it from time to time.
Two weeks before the All-Ireland final Kilkenny had a weekend training camp away. Power played a full part in the sessions on the Saturday.
“I didn’t go 100% because I was still sort of minding the knee but I had to make a decision about my availability,” he told us.
The following week was the last week of serious training, the time when the All-Ireland day squad of 26 would be decided.
Power wanted in.
“I said I either push on with this now or give up,” was his mind set.
“The whole year would have been wasted if I didn’t give it a go. We had two training sessions. I put the injury to the back of my mind and went out hurling. Things went alright.”
Luckily, he insisted, he got into the 26 for the final against Galway. He was sprung from the bench during the closing 12 minutes. He made a point and shot a wide.
“Unfortunately,” he laughed. “I was hoping the ball would go over. After the year I had it would have been one little bit of comfort. It didn’t happen. At the end of the day we won and I did something for the team.”
He enjoyed the moment. He soaked up the atmosphere immediately after the final whistle, lingering on the Croke Park pitch, hand-in-hand with his son Ruairí .
“I wanted to savour it with Ruairí and John (his brother) and the lads. I didn’t see it as my last day in Croke Park or anything. As it transpired, that was what it was.”
The knee was sore again after the All-Ireland final and Power was unable to train as results continued to go against Carrickshock and they ended up battling relegation from the senior grade.
He couldn’t train, and he needed injections to help him get through the relegation matches. Ultimately that battle was lost.
Carrickshock slipped back into the intermediate division.
“Maybe I might be able to go back and play with my club,” he pondered, the draw of the parish now greater than ever as Carrickshock set their sights on a quick return to the top flight.
“If I had been told the knee wouldn’t hold up to the demands of inter-county hurling and I could go back and enjoy club hurling, I would have been able to accept that. Being told your playing days are more than likely over, full stop, was hard.”
If he thinks he can help Carrickshock in any way, he will. He wondered how he might do it. The training would have to be tailored, gym based rather than pounding around fields. That is the thinking now.
“Even at 30 I felt I had two or three more years left at the highest level,” Richie felt. “The way Kilkenny are going now it is not something you wouldn’t want to miss.
“There is no reason why this Kilkenny team can’t go on and win more All-Irelands with the players and management team who are there.
“The ambition is there. The potential is definitely there. It would have been great to be part of it. Unfortunately that is not to be.”
The season 2014, even if he was battling injury, was one of his best with Kilkenny, he felt.
That was mainly due to the fact he worked extremely hard on his fitness. He went back training two weeks after Carrickshock were beaten in the county final of 2013. He trained with a good friend, Michael Comerford (the O’Loughlin’s trainer).
Hotel Kilkenny and Scanlon Park were the sweat shops where he attained a level of fitness he never had before, all the time driven and encouraged by Army man Comerford.
In the early part of that season he was left out of the Kilkenny squad. He had gone through a bad period with the club, and his form was below par.
“I had to get my head right,” he said. “I took the decision to work with Michael. He helped me three or four times a week. There were weeks when we training five times together. It was phenomenal.”
A recall to the Kilkenny squad followed in the middle of the League. Things were looking good.
Then he picked up a knee injury in the opening Leinster championship engagement in Tullamore against Galway; the posterior cruciate in the left knee. That kept him out until the All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick.
He saw action from the bench against Limerick, and then featured in the All-Ireland final and replay against Tipperary.
“I was really fresh,” Richie recalled. “I remember during the game feeling I had loads in my legs, plenty of energy. As it transpired things worked out really well for me. I felt if I could get myself into that shape again for 2015, who knows what might happen.
“I was looking for one year injury free. I don’t think I ever got it. I would love to have been able to walk away on my own terms and have no regrets.
“Unfortunately, that is not the case. Being forced to retire is not what anyone wants. There will be regrets.”
Still, he insisted, he had to be happy with what he achieved, the great players, management and County Board officials he encountered along the way. Throughout his injuries, and especially now, all in the Kilkenny camp have been hugely supportive.
“I couldn’t have expected any more from team management, the medical team, or Kilkenny County Board on a personal or sports level,” he insisted. “Brian (Cody), Mick (Dempsey), Ned (Quinn), Barry Hickey, Paul Kinsella and all involved in the County Board have been exceptional, and the same with other members of the squad."
The senior inter-county hurling story began for Richie Power (junior) - his father Richie won senior All-Irelands in 1982 and ’83 and 1992; his brother Jamie won an under-21 All-Ireland when his father was team manager - in 2005. He was a starry-eyed youngster then.
“One of the big highlights of my career was getting to hurl with D.J. (Carey),” he beamed. “I grew up loving D.J., pretending to be D.J. in the back garden. When I got an opportunity to play beside him it was surreal.”
Success came fast. Kilkenny won the League in 2005, plus the Leinster championship, but they were beaten in the All-Ireland semi-final by Galway. He was 19 or 20.
He saw pain that day etched on the faces of warriors like Peter Barry, and he didn’t forget.
A lot to do with this game was about passion, he reckoned.
“That was where the drive and ambition were born,” Richie suggested. “I saw what it all meant to these guys, and the effort they put in.
“From 2006 on you couldn’t dream of what we experienced. From ’06 to 2015 you were in every All-Ireland final bar one. You win eight and lose one and are beaten in a quarter-final the other year (2013). I played in 11 All-Ireland finals, including two replay. That is fair going.
“Having gone through that sort of run makes it all the more difficult to have to give it up. To see where Kilkenny hurling is at the moment, and where it can still go adds to the pain. Because you want to be part of it.
“They are going for three in-a-row again this year. Who says it will even stop there? My situation won’t hit home until Valentine’s Day when Kilkenny go down to play Waterford in the League. That will be very hard.”
There will be a huge void in his life, he insisted. For the past 11 years he has been a serious sportsman, training maybe five times a week. Now he is looking at seven nights off.
“I don’t know what I am going to do with my time,” he laughed, and yet insisting he was deadly serious.
His club, Carrickshock will be there. He will throw himself into affairs there.
Richie Power was marked out as a serious, serious prospect when he was only 15. He was the sub goalie to David Herity on the county minor team. He later played two years out field with the team.
He was captain in 2003 against Galway, scoring the winning point in a 2-16 to 2-15 All-Ireland win. The year before his club colleague, Michael Rice captained the minors to All-Ireland success.
He played in three under-21 All-Irelands, winning two. Progression to the senior team was not far off. In 2006 he won a major double, under-21 and senior All-Irelands.
“I walk away with two minor All-Irelands, two under-21 All-Irelands, eight senior All-Irleands, two colleges All-Irelands; I couldn’t have asked for more. But I could.... the chance to call time myself. But that’s life!”
He admitted that when he won his first senior medal in 2006 he never thought he would end up with eight.
“I knew after 2006 that we had the makings of something special with the group of players that was there,” he said. “I have been lucky and blessed to come up with the players I did.”
He played at minor level with the likes of James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick, Michael Fennelly, John Tennyson, John Dalton and so on. Unusually, a lot of them progressed together.
“That doesn’t always happen,” Richie reminded. “You have lads at minor and under-21 level and they don’t progress. We did.”
Now he thinks there is no reason why a good few of the current players can’t drive on even further.
“This year we have Jackie (Tyrrell) going for his 10th All-Ireland. Michael Fennelly, Michael Rice and others are like me on eight. Then you have Richie Hogan on seven. I don’t know how many more years he has left in him. T.J. (Reid) as well.
“It is a great time for Kilkenny hurling. It is a great time to be involved.”
He said he always wanted to be the best hurler he could be. He knew he was seen as a bit lazy in the early years. Brian (Cody) and Mick (Dempsey), he said, were pulling their hair out wondering how they were going to get more out of me.
“But the older you get, you realise the less years you have,” he said when he decided he wasn’t going to spare himself. “At the beginning of 2014 I realised I didn’t have too much left. I was happy with what I achieved but I think there was a lot more in me.
“I didn’t want to have that regret. I made it happen that year. I don’t know does any sports person walk away and say they have no regrets. There is always something. That is the case with me.
“Injuries played a big part in my career. I won’t say they held me back, but I should have been mentally tougher in the earlier years, and that might have made a bit of a difference.”
We wondered how he handled pressure?
“Any day you put on the Kilkenny jersey there is a degree of pressure,” he insisted. “Different people deal with pressure in different ways. I was part of the group at the back of the bus having a laugh on the way to games.
“I felt if you could keep things relaxed and as normal as you can it helps. But once you hit Croke Park the nerves kicked in. There wasn’t a day I went out with Kilkenny that I wasn’t nervous. That was good. The day I wouldn’t be nervous there would be something wrong.
“That is all part of it. Those are the days you live for. When you run out in a full Croke Park it makes the hair stand on the back of your neck.”
So, what’s it like standing up to a pressure free in a big game?
“The thinking process is if I miss this Brian (Cody) is going to be shouting at me,” he laughed. “There is pressure. One or two of the years Brian came to me and asked would I be comfortable taking frees. I said yes. I take them with the club.
“Obviously there is pressure. I took over from Henry twice, one against Tipp in 2010. Every free you get you are expected to score. You are playing at the highest level, remember.
“That ability comes from staying behind for 20 minutes or so after training to hit 20 or 30 frees. Maybe getting in early for training to hit 20 or 30 frees. No better man to do that than Henry. He was amazing.
“It is practice, practice. If you practice enough you should be confident, but if you know in your head the work hasn’t been done, then that is when the knees will knock. It is a huge responsibility for any player.
“You are expected to land 90/95% of frees, which could equate to nine or 10 points.”
The game, he admitted, didn’t come easy to him. The skills, maybe. He was always practicing against the gable end of the house when he was young. He was confident enough with the skills.
He found pre-season the hardest; the gym work, the building himself up.
But he loved the long evenings and training in Nowlan Park. The Kilkenny training sessions were hard. That is why the county is so successful, he felt.
“I spent nights training on Noel Hickey, Tommy Walsh, J.J Delaney, Brian Hogan,” he reminded. “In my eyes, you wouldn’t go in against a team marking a better player.
“You are competing against the best in the business. Some nights you might come out on top. Others you won’t, but you learn that you are able to compete. That was the big thing to take from every session against the likes of those lads.”
The early part of the Kilkenny hurling story for Richie Power was amusing. He recalled when he was 15. He had played in the Tony Forristal (under-14) tournament, and the year after he was involved with the Nenagh Co-Op (under-16) team.
For one match he was carrying a dead leg, he laughed. Ned Quinn, who was County Board chairman at the time, happened along the sideline. He gave Power a polite kick up the behind (if there is such a thing) and asking him why he wasn’t playing. He argued a dead leg. He was told to play.
He did. He scored two goals to help beat a crack Galway outfit. He scored a bagful of point in the final the following day to help beat Clare.
What about the leg, I wondered?
“The dead leg was the dead leg,” he laughed. “I iced it on the Saturday night and played on Sunday.
“I laughed recently with Ned about that story. One of the great memories of people and incidents.”