GAA Legends - Richie Power
By John Harrington
When you ask Richie Power how he reflects on his time as a Kilkenny hurler, you don’t expect the word ‘regret’ to feature in the first sentence of his reply.
After all, he won eight All-Ireland Senior medals, eight National League medals, two All-Ireland minor medals, two All-Ireland U-21 medals, and two All-Star awards over the course of a stellar career.
Very few hurlers in the history of the game can better that haul but it probably says a lot about Power's mentality that he regrets he didn't have the opportunity to win more.
He's also clearly still processing the disappointment of being forced into retirement by a knee injury rather than going out on his own terms.
On Saturday morning he’ll bring members of the public around Croke Park for the latest Bord Gáis Energy Legends Tour, and as he sits in a Hogan Stand dressing-room and tells his story there’ll be a pang or two that he’s not still wearing a Kilkenny jersey and writing a few more chapters of it.
“Yeah, I suppose looking back on my career the last 12 to 18 months I kind of look back with a bit of regret on the injury side of things,” admits Power.
“I had to retire at 29 which was very, very young to be retiring and it was forced upon me to call it a day. I had a good season in 2014 with Kilkenny and I thought starting 2015 that if I had an injury-free season that maybe the best was still to come because I was only 28 years of age and I was really looking forward to it.
“But it wasn't to be. I suppose standing in Walsh Park at the beginning of the 2016 season looking at the lads in the League and with my son Rory beside me, that's when it really hit home, that this was it. This was what I was going to be for the next 40 or 50 years.
“Obviously it was a big change and you'd love to be out there and you'd love to be putting on the jersey and things like that. But as it turned out it wasn't to be. It's one of those things you have to accept and move on.
“You have a family and they have to take priority so you just move on and certainly looking back over it now I've had a year or so to process it.
“And looking back now I realise how lucky I was. It was great to come up with the group of players I did. The likes of Henry, JJ, Tommy. The list is endless really.
“It was a great era in Kilkenny hurling and I suppose to be part of that was something that will live with me for the rest of my life and it'll be something I can look back on in 10, 15, 20 years time and really savour it then.”
Power has no cartilage now left in his left knee after a series of injuries that required a total of six scopes over the course of his career.
He travelled to Croatia in June to explore the possibility of stem-cell treatment to regenerate the cartilage, but didn’t get the answers he was hoping for.
“No, it wasn't the result I was hoping for, but, look, that's the way it goes,” says Power. “I wasn't really going out with great expectations. It was just something I wanted to do to see would it help me going forward.
“I didn't get the news I was hoping for, but I wasn't expecting miracles going out either. It was the last roll of the dice for me and unfortunately I didn't get the news I was hoping for.
“It was just a lot of injuries came to a head. Unfortunately that's just the way things turned out. I got my first operation when I was in St. Kieran's College at the age of 16.
“I suppose that's when it all started for me. Look, it was really tough to take.
“I remember when I got the first one when I was 16 I rushed back to play in a Colleges All-Ireland four weeks after having key-hole surgery which is madness really when you think back on it.
“In 2015 I had three operations in the space of eight months. No matter who you are or what you are there are no limbs or body that can withstand that sort of invasive procedure and hope to come back right.”
He did well to have the career he did considering the toll it took on his body, yet in a way he was only fulfilling his destiny.
His father and namesake Richie Snr had been a formidable himself for Kilkenny, winning two All-Ireland senior medals, but Richie Jnr was deemed to be an even more special talent from a young age.
He was being talked about in hurling circles from his mid-teens thanks to his exploits in a St. Kieran’s jersey, and the expectation clearly didn’t weigh too heavily on him because by the age of 21 he’d won All-Ireland minor, U-21, and senior medals.
“Obviously coming through the underage set-up in Kilkenny there is going to be a bit of pressure to make it but it was always something I wanted to do from a very young age - to represent Kilkenny at hurling because I saw Dad doing it and to me that was everything to me to try to emulate what Dad did and carry on the name and little things like that,” says Power.
“Certainly, I wouldn't have felt any pressure. Obviously there would have been expectation there and looking back over my career I had a lot of bad days as well.
“I suppose the good days outweighed the bad. You just have to deal with it. You know, you're never going to be perfect every day. It's the days that you have a bad day that you learn from them and you really push on from that then.
“It was a learning curve. Even my last year with Kilkenny I was still learning. I had great people behind me and family and that to try to help me along the way as well.
“Obviously I wouldn't have got to where I was without their help behind me either.”
As talented as he was, like many players before him and since in the Kilkenny senior panel he had to serve an apprenticeship.
He notably failed to make the starting XV for the 2007 All-Ireland Final with Aidan Fogarty instead preferred by Brian Cody, so he learned the hard way that nothing would be handed to him on a plate.
“No, absolutely not. There were no guarantees in that set-up. I think that's what made Kilkenny so successful looking back on it.
“Look, you're right. There were a couple of times there that I felt I was going well in training and didn't get the nod.
“But, overall I think as experience goes and growing up with that experience I think it all stood to me in the end. Brian, there's no better manager than Brian to get the best out of players.
“You go back over the last 20 years and you see how good players have been under Brian as manager.
“Definitely there were days when you felt you could have been there and obviously then there were days when things weren't going right and Brian stuck by you. It all levelled itself out in the end.”
Of all his years in a Kilkenny jersey, 2014 as the sweetest of all because he triumphed in the face of adversity.
It looked like his season was over when he damaged the posterior ligament in his knee in the Leinster semi-final against Galway.
But after committing totally to his rehab he managed to make it back in time for the All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick where he came off the bench and scored the match-winning goal for the Cats.
Then over the course of the drawn and replayed Final against Tipperary he scored three goals and experienced the joy of winning an All-Ireland medal alongside his brother John who also goaled in the replayed match.
“Yeah, 2014 would have to be the highlight,” says Power. “With John as well, the two of us scoring the goals in the Final and the two of us having played well in that game as well.
“I suppose for myself personally as well I had a very tough start to that year in 2014 and it was an unbelievable climax to the year for me.
“Definitely when the final whistle went that day I remember falling to my knees and realising the enormity of what we had just done.
“And to have John there as well, and I remember Mam and Dad after the game too and they couldn't have been prouder either.
“It was a huge day for the family overall.”
When he looks back on his time with Kilkenny it’s the people and personalities he shared the dressing-room with that stand out.
He counts himself hugely fortunate to have come along at the same time as arguably the greatest generation of hurlers ever to wear an inter-county jersey.
“Listen, there were times that I was still playing when I had to pinch myself and realise the enormity of what we achieved.
“The guys that I was going in every night with and togging out beside in the dressing-room.
“I grew up idolising DJ Carey and I got to play alongside DJ in 2005 and I would say to this day that if I never won any All-Ireland with Kilkenny that would have been the highlight for me. Just to share the same dressing-room with someone of the calibre of DJ.
“There were so many other great hurlers there that I don't want to name any two or three in particular because you’d only be leaving lads out. I was blessed really.
“I won two minor All-Irelands, two U-21 All-Irelands, and was lucky enough to get eight senior All-Irelands and a lot of that was with the same group of players. Definitely it was very, very special.”
What marked that Kilkenny team out as something different wasn’t just their obvious hurling ability, it was their winning mentality.
Despite all they had already achieved, they would come back year after year just as ravenous for success as ever before.
“My way of looking at it was that you'd go back training in early December in the muck and shite as I'd put it and you're putting your body through pre-season to get yourself in physical shape to perform come the summer then it has to be worth the effort,” says Power.
“We used to always get together and say what's the point in doing this if you don't want to be there in September. What's the point if you don't want to be the best in Ireland.
“And I'm sure every other county is exactly the same. That's where the hunger comes from. If I had won 10, 12, 14 All-Irelands the same hunger would always be there going back at the start of the following year.
“Because that will to win and hunger to be the best you can be is always there. Every year we won the All-Ireland we used to sit around on the Monday and Tuesday after together and you could look at the lad beside you and say, 'you know what, we're the best in Ireland'.
“To me that was the most satisfying feeling of all. When you sat back and looked at what you achieved and then you'd go back the following year as champions and you'd want to be there again.
“It was going to take an awesome effort from whichever team wanted to take that All-Ireland off us. Luckily enough in my time it only happened on three occasions. Every other year we were lucky enough to win an All-Ireland Final.
“When I look back, I have to pinch myself at how fortunate I was to run out in Croke Park on the first Sunday in September so often.”
The last time he ran out there was the most special of all – his club Carrickshock’s AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Final victory over Ahascragh-Fohenagh last February.
Power missed most of the season because of his damaged knee but had made it back in time for Carrickshock’s victories in the county semi-final and final where he came off the bench to good effect.
He ready to play a starting role by the time the All-Ireland Final came around and proved class was permanent by scoring five points from play and winning a penalty as Carrickshock won in some style.
“Look, without a doubt, that was by far the highlight of my career to date,” says Power.
“It was everything, to be honest. I had two brothers, John and Jamie, on the team and I had cousins on the team as well so it was just fantastic for the club and the parish.
“We had been through a lot of hardship and heartache in Carrickshock losing two senior county finals and days like that certainly go a long way towards making up for that.
“They're back up senior this year where I think that group of players belong.”
Despite not getting the news he wanted in Croatia, Power hasn’t given up hope of pulling on that Carrickshock jersey himself again someday.
“Maybe fingers crossed I might play some part, but at the moment it's not looking likely,” he says.
“It might be that something similar to last year could happen for me in so far as I get a bit of time towards the end of the year.
“But at the moment I'm working away in the gym, I'm trying to build up the leg, and to be honest that's about all I can do at the moment so that's what I'm concentrating on.”
He’ll give himself every chance, because he doesn’t want to hang up that hurl with any more regrets.
Go here for information on and to book tickets for upcoming Bord Gáis Energy Legends Tours at Croke Park.