KILKENNY SHC FINAL:
Carrickshock v Clara
Richie Power Senior is sipping tea and answering questions in Langton’s (where else?) when a random punter, heading in the direction of the dining room, stops and buttonholes him.
“I thought ye were poor enough in the quarter-final against Dicksboro — I’m a ‘Boro man — but ye were great against Shamrocks,” announces the punter.
“I didn’t think ye could play that well. All the best for Sunday. It would be lovely to see ye win it after so long.”
Ye? Carrickshock. Sunday? Tomorrow’s Kilkenny senior hurling final, which pits them against Clara. After so long? The last time they were county champions was in 1951.
As a former player, selector and club chairman, Richie Power is entitled to be more excited than most. As the father of the Carrickshock half-forward line, he’ll be more nervous than most. Yes, the entire half-forward line. Jamie Power on the right, Richie Junior in the centre and John on the left. His sons, with whom he is — though modesty forbids him saying it openly — well pleased.
“It’s the thing I get fantastic pleasure out of,” he acknowledges. “To have your own three sons hurling with the club you loved all your life and gave years and years playing with.”
How many years? “Let’s see. I hurled adult with them from 16 till 38... God, no, I went to 40.”
Nearly a quarter of a century in the green with the gold sash at a time when wearing the colours was, whatever about being popular, certainly not profitable.
The high points of Power’s career were achieved in black and amber and in technicolor, in the 1982 and ’83 All-Ireland finals.
Life with Carrickshock was monochrome. All those junior and intermediate fixtures in Mullinavat and Piltown. All those county semi-finals. All those might-have-beens.
Too many of them. Power played in 10 intermediate semi-finals and lost far more of them than he won. The problem wasn’t that the Carrickshock team of his generation weren’t good enough; the problem was that the intermediate grade in Kilkenny is a mini-Alcatraz and that they kept meeting teams who were slightly better than them and were destined for bigger things.
The nearest they got was in 1982. Clara beat them by four points in the county final, were promoted and four years later were senior champions. Another year DJ Carey’s Young Irelands knocked them out, won it out and went on to be senior champions a couple of seasons later. Another year Dicksboro knocked them out, won it out and went on to be senior champions a couple of seasons later. And yet another year, Glenmore knocked them out, won it out and went on to win not just a county senior title but an All-Ireland.
By that stage Carrickshock’s star had long since fallen from its apogee of the 1930s and ‘40s. There was one very good reason for that, and it was nothing to do with a lack of passion in the club. While Carrickshock had won seven Kilkenny titles between 1931 and ’51, including four in a row from 1940-43, they’d done so at a time when clubs in the county could field players from outside the parish. Thus, in the blaze of their blooming was contained the seeds of their withering.
The introduction of the parish rule in 1954, meaning clubs could only field players from their parish, led to the gradual democratisation of the game in the county. A flotilla of small boats were lifted over the following decades. But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and no club was hit harder than Carrickshock, whose winning team of 1951 contained players from no fewer than eight parishes.
When Kilkenny beat Cork in the 1982 All-Ireland final Richie Power, who hit 0-4 from right-half forward, was the first man to win an All-Ireland medal for the club in its modern, standalone incarnation.
Plenty have followed in his footsteps. Pat Dwyer in 1992-93, then John Tennyson, John Dalton, Michael Rice and Richie Power Jnr in the Cody era. On the face of it, you’d imagine that a side boasting such a core would have been county champions long ago. It is one of the enduring puzzles of Kilkenny hurling that they haven’t.
They lost the intermediate final by a point in successive years, 2002 and ’03, before winning it by a point in 2004. (“That bunch of players was the beginning of this team,” Power notes). They lost an All-Ireland intermediate final. After much labouring, they reached the county senior final three years ago against O’Loughlins. Power was a selector that season. What transpired — a complete no-show by Carrickshock — still puzzles him.
“I’ve asked myself a thousand times since then what went wrong. I felt that morning, and right up to after we got off the bus, we were spot on. But it just never happened on the day. Was it the occasion? The fact it was our first county final in nearly 60 years? Preparations had been top class. Everything seemed right. I still can’t explain it.”
They’ve frequently been accused of having a tail. An abundance of household names at one end the scale but a lack of support at the other. To Power, that’s a lazy characterisation. Injuries, he argues, have long hindered them. “We were without Michael Rice two years, without John Tennyson two years, without David Franks one year.”
A fortnight ago in the semi-final, it was different. Rice was hitting form for the first time in 2013. Tennyson lined out despite a shoulder injury. “Everything was right, everyone going well, a great buzz in the panel.”
A flying start, a good finish and at last they’d beaten Ballyhale Shamrocks, their neighbours and so often their conquerors at under-21 and senior level over the past decade. Tomorrow they’ve one final leap to take.
Richie Snr might well have moved to Cork and settled there in the 1980s. He was working for HB and living in Carrigtwohill. Glen Rovers made him an offer he very nearly didn’t refuse. He reckons he’d have been happy there. Seeing the lads grow up and play for Carrickshock and Kilkenny, though — well, that’s a feeling money couldn’t buy.
That the Power sons would rise was inevitable. You’ve heard of Richie junior, who’s 27. You may yet hear of 20-year-old John. Chances are you won’t have heard of Jamie, the eldest of the trio at 33.
Dad won’t say this too loudly but he’d be particularly thrilled for Jamie if Carrickshock won tomorrow.
“He’s played in a lot of positions, he’s given his life to it. It would be very satisfying.”
The Powers and the glory.
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