Kilkenny's Richie Power: The Cat who had it all

He got there in the end. 
Kilkenny's Richie Power: The Cat who had it all

After years of being one of the lieutenants, of being just another member — however outrageously gifted — of the supporting cast, Richie Power finally came into his kingdom in the month of September 2014. Had there been no Power, there would have been no All-Ireland for Kilkenny. Had there been no Power, they might well not have made it past Limerick amid the semi-final’s biblical downpour.

But Power’s technical virtuosity allowed him connect on the meat with a sodden ball in a rainstorm to score the game-breaking goal, and it was his three green flags over the course of the two finals against Tipperary that dragged his team across the line. With just 160 minutes of championship action that summer, it prevented him winning an All Star. Some sort of award for services rendered above and beyond the call of duty ought to have been invented and bestowed, however.

And so another multi-bemedalled Cat slinks off into the Noreside twilight. Yet another one. At one level it’s been difficult to distinguish between them, all helmeted and faceless and obsessive and remorseless. The truth, of course, is that they were individuals: smart, engaging guys with personalities they were rarely allowed to show in public, to their loss as well as ours. They each travelled a different route to get to where they arrived. Power’s journey was more interesting than most.

He was the most obvious superstar of the lot. Before he was 21 he’d won All-Ireland medals at senior, U21, minor (he scored the winning point in the 2003 decider) and colleges. It all came so ridiculously easily to him, too easily.

General consternation was the order of the Friday night in Kilkenny when the team for the 2007 All-Ireland final was announced and was seen to contain Aidan Fogarty instead of Richie Power. How could this be? The answer took little divining. Fogarty had clearly done more in training to impress Brian Cody than Power had. It took a while for the penny to drop lavish talent was only a part of it where Cody was concerned —– that lavish talent, indeed, could be a drawback rather than a blessing, if unaccompanied by conspicuous sweat.

Think of them as a firm of house painters. Shefflin was the overseer, the first man on the job every day and the last off it. JJ Delaney and Tommy Walsh and Eoin Larkin et al were his trusted aides. Richie Power would contribute a dazzling, beautifully ornate sash window here and there, but for years he gave the impression he was performing within himself.

Gifts? He had pretty much everything. Size, strength, formidable fetching ability, the heft to avoid being displaced under the dropping ball (ask Kieran Bergin), a turn of foot, a sublime first touch and an exocet shot off either side. Brian Hogan, Jackie Tyrrell and Aidan Fogarty all tweeted yesterday to hymn him as “the most naturally talented forward” they’d hurled with. How he was such a poor penalty taker remains inexplicable.

Power had something else on top of it all, though. Most inordinately gifted hurlers are functional in the extreme. It is the bedrock of their game: the ability to enact the skills in a flash and move on to the next task. There are no extra marks for style and one doesn’t pay a surcharge for the sight of them in action. But Power had a satin smoothness about him,a kind of electric honey. He did things quickly but he never hurried.

The only thing he lacked was generalship, and that was fair enough. For the creator, to have made him a leader of men on top of everything else would have been just playing games.

At the risk of coming over all existential, it’s hardly too much to suggest Power’s very panoply of talents mitigated against his leadership skills. He wasn’t one of those players required to analyse their game endlessly or labour even more conscientiously in order to atone for a skills deficit.

Power was so good he didn’t need to make a song and dance about it. Years went by without him seizing a big game by the throat. It was vaguely irritating but it wasn’t fatal; leadership qualities weren’t needed on his part as long as Shefflin was there to lead the regiment out of the trenches and over the top.

(Odd, incidentally, how the qualities of the father are not always visited upon the son. Richie senior was one of the most diligent hurlers ever to pull on the stripes, the ultimate 110% man. Richie senior’s name would have been on Cody’s team sheet before Richie junior most days.)

Upon which the supreme moment arrived in 2014 and Shefflin wasn’t there any more. Fortunately for Kilkenny, Power was.

The first of his three goals against Tipp was probably the best of the lot. It was unquestionably the one that has — wrongly — received the least credit: an astonishingly feathery touch, with the bas of his hurley angled, to dink TJ Reid’s layoff over the outrushing Darren Gleeson and the agility to meet it on the other side. It looked simple; it was anything but. No other Kilkenny player since DJ Carey could have managed it.

His other goal that afternoon was flashier. A swift pick-up on the run; an attempt at an early shot initiated but aborted; the sliotar back on the stick for another few metres. Then and only then was the trigger pulled and the ball despatched across Gleeson and into the far top corner.

Finally came the goal that handed the winners the initiative in the replay. There was a case for saying he fouled Kieran Bergin as Michael Fennelly’s line ball dropped 20 metres out at the Railway end, but Brian Gavin decided there was a pair of them in it and Power won the physical battle before retrieving his hurley from Bergin’s grasp, catching, fashioning space for himself and unleashing a low shot that took the requisite, goalkeeper-killing bounce on its way to the corner of the net.

Bogart and Bergman always had Paris. Power will always have 2014.

He can take considerable pride, moreover, from how well he lasted the course in that most unforgiving of testing grounds, Nowlan Park, despite the injuries.

There was grittiness to back up the glitz.

It took him years but eventually he got around to fulfilling that absurd potential of his. More so than the eight All Ireland medals, that’s Power’s epitaph.

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