'Richie Power, the most gifted and naturally talented hurler of all'
Published 20/01/2016 | 02:30
The tributes to Richie Power flowed quickly from some of his team-mates when news of his retirement, because of persistent knee trouble, was confirmed yesterday. All had a very common theme.
Kilkenny may have had more decorated hurlers in this, the most glittering of golden eras. And they have had more storied. But they didn't, it seems, have a more naturally gifted one, according to the testimonies of those who saw him up close and personal.
Paul Murphy, Aidan Fogarty and Brian Hogan each touched on the same qualities in their summation of the Carrickshock man; talent to burn, untouchable vision, always a step ahead.
All agreed that 30-year-old Power was the most naturally talented they had played with. Among such hurling deity that is indeed quite the compliment, even more the statement.
Eddie Brennan's mind drifts back to those summer evenings in their Nowlan Park crucible when the genius of Power would so often shine through.
"Most lads playing inter-county hurling have a level of skill and application. Some lads are stronger than others. I've seen it myself a few evenings," recalled Brennan.
"He could be off the ground in the air, holding off the centre-back and using the hurl to kill the ball. Literally the ball just lands dead on top of the hurl and off he goes with it.
"I've seen a few touches like that different evenings and you would just be amazed by his speed of thought. It's up there with DJ (Carey), any of them."
The general consensus is that DJ and Power have shared that same plateau for natural skill in Kilkenny in the modern age. Brennan feels his achievement in even making the field for the second half of last year's All-Ireland final is testament to the qualities his colleagues spoke of yesterday.
"It's just a natural level of skill he has. If I wasn't hurling for a month or I was laid up with an injury and I couldn't keep the touch right, it would be very obvious and I would be well behind," he admitted.
"What Richie did last year, he wasn't able to participate in any training matches, he did not play a match, club or county, all last summer but such was Brian's faith in Richie's skill that he could still throw him into an All-Ireland final and he could make a contribution."
Power had to live up to quite a lofty reputation and for a while it seemed like it might burden him after back-to-back All-Ireland minor wins in 2002 and 2003.
But Brennan saw the man grow from beneath the "shadow" of Henry Shefflin to whom inevitable comparisons were drawn in his early years.
"You heard about Richie Power when he was 13 or 14, in the same tone as Richie Hogan, Tommy Walsh and these guys.
"It took him a little while to come in to the senior set-up but when he did, it had me looking over my shoulder. You knew that he had a skill level that I would say surpasses an awful lot of the fellas that I would have hurled with."
He made his senior debut in 2005, played in each of the four-in-a-row finals between 2006 and 2009 but it really wasn't until 2010 that he came to be appreciated as much as some of his peers.
When Shefflin went off with a cruciate ligament tear in the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final against Cork, it was Power who took on the mantle of leadership in the vacuum, assuming free-taking duties to score 1-8 before adding 1-9 in the final against Tipperary when Shefflin was forced off again.
"An opinion held around Kilkenny was that his best position was full-forward. That to me was the best position for Richie, he got a goal in the All-Ireland semi-final against Eoin Cadogan. He was a genius on the edge of the square, he could just see an opening. That year in particular he was on fire.
"Within Kilkenny and even outside Kilkenny a lot of people looked at him and the common consensus was 'here's the next Henry Shefflin.' To be fair to him, he came out from under Henry's shadow and thrived as a leader.
"You generally see that with the vast majority of us under Brian Cody. Richie was a dominant player at underage level. He was superb. But there is definitely a big change to the type of the game. It becomes more physical, you're no longer the hot-shot forward, fellas are at the same level of physical development.
"Where as when you're thrown in against men, they know how to dictate the physical terms. The work ethic Brian Cody would have looked for, it took Richie time to buy into that."
He was very much a big-game player as his scoring record in All-Ireland finals reveal. He played in 11 (including two replays) of the 16 on Brian Cody's managerial watch and in those 16 games he was the most prolific goalscorer, his five eclipsing Shefflin and Brennan's quartet.
Brennan feels the game may have been deprived of the best of Power in the years ahead and in particular the understanding and interaction between Power, TJ Reid and Richie Hogan which surfaced when they accumulated 3-15 of Kilkenny's 3-22 total in the drawn 2014 All-Ireland final against Tipperary.
"I would have thought Richie has matured an awful lot in the last four or five years into a leader on the team and the disappointing thing is that as a hurling person, I was looking forward to seeing himself, TJ and Richie working together in a forward line.
"The brains are working as good as anything that has hurled for Kilkenny and you would love to see the three of them working together, with Eoin Larkin and different fellas. He just had a real good hurling brain.
"My overriding thing is that I am most disappointed for him. I felt he was coming into his peak, there were two or three really good years in Richie Power now.
"Most fellas develop physically and mentally to their maximum around the 30 mark.
"The cup is more than half-full, he has won an awful lot. But I would love to have seen him get two years where the health was perfect."