“I’m looking at a knee replacement probably in 10 or 15 years’ time.”
Richie Power discusses Sunday's All-Ireland final between Kilkenny and Tipperary along with his career being cut short by a chronic knee injury.
Despite winning eight All-Ireland titles and two All Stars in 11 seasons playing for Kilkenny, Power harbours regret about the manner in which he was forced to retire from inter-county hurling (he intends to play for Carrickshock again) at 30 years old.
This must be an unusual week in that you are not preparing for an All-Ireland final?
“Yeah, it has been. I suppose it would be great to be involved but unfortunately it’s not the case so look, a different perspective, a different angle this year for me.
“I suppose going up Sunday it’s going to be a surreal feeling sitting in the stand and having to look at it but I suppose that’s the way it goes. I’d love to be there but unfortunately I can’t be there so you know life goes on, Kilkenny hurling moves on and everything moves on.
“I suppose it’s after taking a while to get used to and I’m gradually getting to it now, it takes probably a year to really get used to it, get Sunday over us hopefully and get the right result and it’ll make the winter a lot easier.”
Have you been able to play hurling since the county retirement?
“No, today is actually the first day I put on a pair of boots in 12 months [to promote Volkswagen St Jude’s All-Ireland Junior Sevens].
I’m back doing a good bit of rehab alright, I’m hoping to get back doing a little bit of running towards the end of this year with the hope of hurling again with Carrickshock next year but the way it is at the moment I’m just not able to unfortunately.”
Can you get back to high level of hurling or do you have to park that?
“After the operation I kind of parked it and more or less though that was it. I suppose what I was hoping to do is get back and do a good level of exercise to keep your fitness up.
“But as the months progressed and the more rehab I done the knee, the leg started to feel a bit stronger - the knee itself is just a shell, there’s nothing in there - but if I can get the rest of the leg built up strong around it, it should be able to take the impact and take a lot of the hit for the knee.
“Look, I’m definitely hoping to get back with Carrickshock next year, now whether that’s a high level or not I don’t know, but if I could get back it would be a huge achievement and that’s certainly what I’m looking to do.”
Was your career the maximum that can be expected from an inter-county player nowadays given the wear and tear of injuries?
“I suppose I’m a lot different that most players in that I’ve had six operations on my leg. A lot of players won’t go through that.
Obviously at 30 years of age you don’t expect to be told that your playing career, let alone your inter-county career, is finished.
“It was wear and tear but I suppose that probably falls back on me pushing through injuries when I shouldn’t have done and maybe giving it more time when I didn’t.
“At the end of the day I’d a good run, obviously you’d still like to be involved on days like Sunday, there was always the possibility of Kilkenny getting to an All-Ireland when I finished up and that’s one thing that kind of stuck out in the back of my head. But you couldn’t try and stay on because I physically wouldn’t have been able to so the decision was kind of made really.”
You have no cartilage in the knee?
“I’ve no cartilage left in the left knee. Pretty much it’s bone on bone.”
The risk is it will swell up after every session?
“Yeah, I suppose what I’d be looking to do is get it to the point where you can exercise comfortably. I suppose what happens there is the two bones gradually wear into a kind of groove, that’s what I’ve been told. If you can get to that point there’s no reason why I can’t get back playing as long as it’s pain free but realistically you’re looking at the knee being very sore and swelling up after games.”
Partly relieved given what you’ve gone through to play a bit part in 2015?
“Yes and no, I suppose. Look, the year I had last year I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. To get back for 12 minutes of inter-county hurling for the whole year is...
“Sometimes I’ve thought to myself would I have been better off just taking last year completely off? Resting the leg and hopefully getting back at it again this year. Obviously you look at all these different scenarios and things might have worked out differently, things might have been different, but at the end of the day I got back for those 12 minutes. It was a great way to finish. I obviously didn’t think it was going to be my last time wearing a Kilkenny jersey but it turned out to be. A bit of relief I suppose putting your body through that but you’d still love to be involved Sunday.”
If you could give any advice to the 20, 21 version of yourself to avoid this ending what would it be?
“Ah look, last year I had three operations in the space of 10 months.
If I had been told last January that I needed to give the leg a break for 12 months I would have done it - no matter how hard it would have been.
“I know in my own head it would have prolonged my career at club and county level. If you had to sacrifice 12 months for 12 minutes, to get an extra two or three years you’d do it.”
Feel hard done by the specialist or medical people who advised you?
“Yeh. I spoke about this previously, got a bit of slack for it. No look, you can blame people if you want; personally I don’t. It would have been nice to have been given the option, if I was told: Take 12 months off, that the knee is in a bad way, of course I would have done it.
“Having three operations in 10 months, the deterioration in the knee was a lot worse than what the specialist was expecting. He, I was under the influence myself, as was the surgeon, that he’d get me back hurling going into the operation last October. Unfortunately, after he came out of the knee, it wasn’t the case. What happened between July and October was a lot more severe than we all thought.
“It’s over and done with. I can’t go back. If I can get back with the club, it is something. It would be nice to give something back after missing so many years after being involved with Kilkenny. Time will tell on that front.”
Worry for younger hurlers if you are getting this advice at the elite end of your sport?
“No. My situation was just a lot different. I was pushing hard myself, wanted to get it done. The knee wasn’t coming right at all. Closing in on 30 as well, you’re looking for a quick fix, trying to get as much as you can out of your career.
“At underage, I don’t see it happening. The ways of training are changing as well. You’re not seeing as many injuries which is good.
The programme that’s there for young guys to be physically strong enough, built strong enough to deal with that impact and training is there now, which wouldn’t have been there 10 years ago.
“A knee is not something you can build up. It’s not really a muscle.
You can’t really do much bar build up around it. From a very young age I was prone to knee problems. First operation was when I was 16. Probably then it all started for me. I got 14 years out of it.”
Is it too high a price? Would you give back an All-Ireland or two for a proper career?
“Oh God, of course I would. Obviously you would give it back.
“2014...the day in Tullamore. 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 for ‘14, played the club championship with my club in ‘14. It was the start of ‘15…I got the operation in January and then I went out in a club game against James Stephens. Played the game. Went through it pain free.
Whatever happened in that game, that’s when everything started to go downhill.”
Look at Michael Fennelly as well, is it too high a price to pay?
“I don’t know would you say it’s too high a price. I can look back in years to come and smile and be happy about what I achieved. I suppose the downfall for me is I’m looking at a knee replacement probably in 10 or 15 years’ time.
“Yeah, it’s a high price to pay from that point of view but I suppose then you’re 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. I suppose it’s a price I kind of have to pay on a personal level.”
Does the knee hinder you day to day?
“Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. It can be quite sore waking up in the morning. Other than that, I’m back doing a good bit in the gym, a good bit of rehab. The more I build up the leg, the more pain-free it will be. I suppose, any part of the body where you have two bones grinding off each other, it’s going to be painful. It’s probably going to be particularly sore in the winter when it gets to the cold as well but, look, there’s very little I can do about it now bar do the rehab I’ve been given.”
Last year easier or harder than you imagined?
“Yeah, it has been hard. Personally it’s been very tough to adapt to not being part of an inter-county set up and not being able to train, full stop.
“It really hit home for the first League game down in Waterford, down in Walsh Park. I went down with Rory, my son, and I was standing on the bank and I just kind of realise that this is it. Because I have done it in the past but I’ve known that I’d get back later in the year. Obviously you 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 so you’re isolated from two groups of players rather than just one. That has been tough. There’s only so much rehab in a gym that you can do.”
You would miss the craic...
“Absolutely and you try and keep in contact with some of the guys and I would be in contact with a good few of the lads on a weekly basis and whatever but it’s still not the same. Obviously I’d be involved with the Carrickshock Whatsapp group with the hope of getting back.
“It’s the little things really. The nights out, the socialising aspect of it, the craic you have in training, the weekends away and things like that you miss but I suppose, look, it’s like anyone when you retire you have to adapt to it and move on. There’s a lot of players after doing it in front of me and a lot after me so it’s just how you deal with it.”
This is exacerbated by being part of the Kilkenny family since you were young because of your Dad...
“I was involved with Kilkenny for 15 years from minor all the way up and obviously Dad was involved as well and obviously John is still involved so we still have that build up. We still have John involved and the excitement that’s there but it is completely different.
Obviously you’re more relaxed in the build up to it. You’re hoping that things will go well for John and obviously the lads and they’ll get the right result but there’s definitely not as much pressure which is probably one of the advantages of it I suppose.”
Are you allowed drop off a cliff or is there enough counselling and the like there once you retire?
“Oh yeah, absolutely. Everything is there for you, especially with the GPA. They’ve been great, county board in Kilkenny have been fantastic as well. Look, there’s loads there because they realise as well that it’s a huge change in a person’s life.
“It’s probably a little bit different if you make the decision yourself because it gives you time to come to terms with it. I know the likes of JJ (Delaney), he had his mind made up from the beginning of 2014 that this was going to be his last year so he had a lot of time to get his head around it.
“But when it’s forced upon you, it’s completely different. In my opinion it is anyway.
“I had no intentions of retiring. I definitely think I had two or three years left in me to give something to Kilkenny. That’s what I was aiming for and that’s what I was planning for.
“I suppose the time after the operation was probably the toughest, after being told by the surgeon. I probably knew for three months before I made the announcement that I was finished and I kind of took that time to get my head around it and luckily enough I had my family around me to do that.”
Your last game you started was the (All-Ireland final) Galway replay two years ago, that John was also playing make that the career highlight?
“There are a few highlights but I think definitely 2014 has to be number one. To be able to win an All-Ireland with your brother there beside you on the field, I don’t think it gets much better than that.
“As you said it’s the last time I started a game for Kilkenny. There are unbelievable memories going back since 2005. I’ll always have those. It will be great to look back on them, I can probably look back on them this Christmas whereas last year was completely different.
“I’ll always have them. It’s great to be able to look back but you have to move on. Suppose anything I can do to help John this week I’ll certainly do it. Just hoping things will work out for him.”
How do you see it going?
“It’s definitely the All-Ireland that everyone wanted. I think Tipperary felt that if they got over Galway last year they would have beaten Kilkenny in the final. So there’s probably a lot more pressure on Tipp I’d imagine. They haven’t won one since 2010. Have they the hoodoo of Kilkenny on their back? Trying to get that off.
“I certainly think if Kilkenny can stop Tipp from scoring goals I think they have an unbelievable chance. But how do you do that? They got two goals in the space of 60 seconds against Galway. That’s the ability that they have. The forward line Tipp have, if that hits fire that’s your match winner right there.
“I think the match ups are going to be crucial and Brian has proven in the past that he can get the match ups right. It will be interesting to see where the big players are positioned and who they pick up. I am sure Michael Ryan is going to be doing the same but I do think if Kilkenny can stop Tipp scoring goals they might sneak it.”
The loss of Mick Fennelly?
“Michael Fennelly missing on Sunday is a massive massive blow for Kilkenny. I think it’s a huge lift for Tipperary. We saw the impact of Michael going off against Waterford. For the first 45 minutes he was a colossus for Kilkenny up and down the field. The minute he went off Waterford got a stranglehold of the game. That’s what you are lacking with Mick. He can cover every blade of grass in Croke Park. He can do the defensive side of things, he can score. He can create scores, he can create anything from nothing. And even his presence to be fair.
“They have Lester (Ryan) maybe to come in or the option of putting Conor (Fogarty) back out to midfield. Whoever wins that area will go a long way to winning the game. To be missing a player of Mick’s calibre is definitely a blow for Kilkenny.”
Will this be Brian Cody’s greatest achievement if they win, given the list of retirements are some of the greatest players ever?
“I wouldn’t say it’s going to be his greatest. It’s certainly going to be an unbelievable achievement. You look at his record, four-in-a-row from ‘06 to ‘09, come back then and win ‘11 and ‘12 and then obviously to be going for another three-in-a-row, it’s unheard of. No manager will come even close to achieving that in the future.
“He just has this knack of finding those two or three players, gelling everyone together. There’s such a spirit built up in that group of players since the time Brian came in and since those players started themselves, it’s unbreakable really.
“I think that’s the one thing about Kilkenny hurling that, you know, that’s what Brian’s philosophy is about. He said that from the very first day he started, he never mentioned winning All-Irelands when he came in first, he said what he wanted to do was just build a spirit within Kilkenny hurling. He’s certainly after doing that and whenever Brian does go, whenever that might be, he’s certainly going to leave Kilkenny hurling in a very, very strong position.”
Hard to imagine that day?
“I think it is yeah and I think Kilkenny people themselves would find it hard to imagine. Personally I don’t see it happening in the distant future. There’s no reason Brian can’t stay going. Who’s going to be the next man to follow him, that’s going to be the question.
“Talk about a poisoned chalice! I certainly wouldn’t want it anyway.
You just don’t know. It’s going to be Brian’s decision at the end of the day. Whenever he decides to walk away he’ll go.”