‘Your have your hurl in your hand every day’ - Richie Power reveals secret to Kilkenny's success
Richie Power talks to Michael Verney about role of St Kieran's in Kilkenny's success
Anyone searching for the secret to Brian Cody's endless conveyor belt of senior talent needs only stand outside St Kieran's College on school mornings to witness the insatiable thirst for hurling in the county.
You could count the number of students without a hurl on one hand. Itching to pit their skills against class-mates, most arrive half an hour before first class to ping balls back and forth.
Nearly as important as your school bag, your ash is carried near and far. You simply wouldn't fit in without a hurl as aspiring young Cats puck around at every available opportunity.
For morning mass, the volume of hurls outside highlights another religion. A deeply spiritual love of the ancient game is ingrained in every first-year student from the moment he steps inside those famous walls.
The hurl and sliotar are carried to every class with storage bins in classrooms to prevent an accident. Education comes first but the hurling ethos inside St Kieran's is clearly cemented.
It's a labour of love and the fruits of that labour were there for all to see on Easter Monday, when the senior side collected their third Croke Cup in succession in a gritty win. Much like Cody's Cats, they have a penchant for always finding a way to win.
The thrill of competition, the desire to improve, and the quest to be the best is something recently-retired Kilkenny attacker Richie Power revelled in during his six years on College Road.
"Your hurl is in your hand nearly every second of the day," Power says. "It's just constant. When I was there I was on the wall ball every single day of the week. You were just looking forward to getting out with the hurl, it was what you lived for in Kieran's.
"The minute the 11 o'clock whistle goes you're out for the 10 or 15 minutes and it's the same with the one-hour lunch. You had the hurl in your hand so often you were perfecting the skills without actually realising what you were doing.
"You were spending at least five hours a week pucking around with the lads, and that's completely separate from the training you're doing. Over six years that adds up to a hell of a lot of hours and I developed most of my hurling in Kieran's to progress with Kilkenny."
It's no wonder they top the roll of honour with 21 senior titles withgreats like DJ Carey, Henry Shefflin, Tipperary's Eoin Kelly and current standard-bearer TJ Reid cultivating their game in St Kieran's.
Schooling seven of the last 10 All-Ireland-winning captains, and six of last 10 Hurlers of the Year, highlights the talent passing through their doors and the "stepping stone" which has helped shape hurling on Noreside.
There was a general consensus that standards would slip when they stopped boarding just over 10 years ago but the opposite has happened. Power puts current success down to the influx of fresh blood. Current Kilkenny players Michael Rice, Lester Ryan, Jonjo Farrell and Michael Walsh are on the teaching staff under principal Adrian Finan, himself an All-Ireland-winning manager at U-21 level, and with James Stephens.
"For a young guy walking in the gate to even have those guys teaching you gives you that hunger and ambition to maybe replicate what they have achieved," the eight-time All-Ireland winner says.
"That's what makes Kieran's so special, their academics is phenomenal but on the sporting side. the teachers just have a love of sport in general. And buying into that mentality at such a young age really prepares you for your future with the game at a high level."
They have a proud tradition in other exploits such as athletics, handball and soccer but at least half of the squad for next week's All-Ireland soccer final will carry hurls to the game despite playing a different code. Hurling continues to breeds hurling while they possess remarkable retention rates.
With many teenagers tailing off from sport between 16 and 18, they amazingly entered four U-16 teams this year, catering for any student with a hurling pulse. There's a different atmosphere around St Kieran's and much like the black and amber of Kilkenny, the black and white of St Kieran's strikes fear into the opposition.
Power, who won two Croke Cups and lost a final as a goalkeeper, feels the famed nursery has helped underpin Kilkenny's unprecedented success. Like apples to an orchard, hurling is synonymous with St Kieran's College. And much like Kilkenny's dominance, that doesn't look like changing any time soon.