Richie Power tossed his boots in the gear bag after last year’s All-Ireland final win over Galway and presumed he’d see them again soon.
Almost 12 months on, he laced them up for the first time yesterday and winced at the cards fate dealt him.
Retirement from hurling with Kilkenny was foisted upon the 30-year old when he underwent knee surgery just weeks after collecting his eighth All-Ireland winners’ medal as a substitute last September.
The Carrickshock man conceded it’s been a difficult period since then. While ex-colleagues like JJ Delaney had the privilege of retiring on their own terms, gifted attacker Power had planned to play for several more years.
He should be leading the Kilkenny attack on Sunday when they meet Tipperary in the All-Ireland final, challenging for his ninth medal.
He is just two medals shy of Henry Shefflin’s all-time record of 10 but with no cartilage remaining in his left knee following six different surgeries, he knows that if he plays for his club again he’ll be mighty lucky.
Even planting his left leg to strike a ball for a promotional picture at yesterday’s launch of the Volkswagen St Judes All-Ireland junior sevens competition was a mini achievement.
“It has been hard,” admitted Power. “Personally, it’s been very tough to adapt to not being part of an inter-county set-up and not even being able to train, full stop. It really hit home for the first round of the league down in Waterford at Walsh Park.
“I went down with Rory, my son, and I was standing on the bank watching and I just kind of realised that this is it for me. I had done that in the past but I’d always known that I’d get back later in the year. Obviously I miss it. Your whole life is turned upside down.
“You’re not involved with the lads, you can’t even go back and be involved with the club team because of the injury so you’re isolated from two groups of players rather than just one. That has all been tough, definitely. There’s only so much rehab work in a gym that you can do.”
All told, Power was a Kilkenny player for 15 years between underage and senior activity, following on from his father’s impressive county career. There is still a strong family connection to the senior set-up in the shape of John, Richie’s younger brother, a starter for the drawn All-Ireland semi-final with Waterford.
It doesn’t come close to playing yourself though and Richie will be a frustrated ex-player next weekend when the Cats seek to keep the foot down on Tipp by securing a three-in-a-row of All-Irelands.
Asked if he’d swap an All-Ireland medal or two for a healthy knee and a couple more years of activity, Power didn’t pause for thought.
“Of course I would, you’d give it back,” he said. “Looking back, 2014 in Tullamore was the day it started for me. I tore the PCL, the posterior cruciate. That helps with the stability in the knee.
“Straight away there was a huge weakness in my knee. Luckily enough I got back playing in late 2014, played the club championship. At the start of 2015 I got an operation, went out and played a club game against James Stephens and got through it pain free. But whatever happened in that game, that’s when everything started to go downhill.”
Listening to Power’s sombre tone, it seems like he may be some way from making peace with his situation.
“Obviously in years to come I can look back and smile and be happy about what I achieved,” said the two-time All Star.
“I suppose the downside for me is that I’m looking at a knee replacement in maybe 10 or 15 years’ time. Obviously, yeah, it’s a high price to pay from that point of view but I suppose then you were playing at the highest level.
“You’re going to get these knocks and bruises and bumps. Would I like to have a fully functioning knee? Absolutely. Would I change my career? I don’t think so. The success that we had, it was fantastic. I suppose it’s a price I kind of have to pay on a personal level.”
Watching Kilkenny make another little piece of hurling history this weekend would bring some solace.
“I think if Kilkenny can stop Tipperary scoring goals then they have an unbelievable chance of winning,” Power said. “But how do you do that? They got two goals in the space of 60 seconds against Galway. That’s the ability they have. The forward line that Tipp have, if that hits fire then that’s your match winner right there.
“I think the match-ups are going to be crucial. Brian Cody has proven in the past that he can get the match-ups right but I am sure Michael Ryan as Tipperary manager is going to have his homework done as well.”
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