Power continuing recovery from the pain of defeat
WITH acknowledgement and admiration comes accountability. The one advantage of women's teams getting less support than their male counterparts is that, when the wheels come off, you can grab them and race for the hills with far fewer repercussions.
Not so the Kilkenny camogie team.
Their storied past and recent history - contesting five of the last six All-Ireland senior finals and winning their first title in 22 years in 2016 - means they've built up a sizeable, passionate support.
A second consecutive one-point All-Ireland final loss to Cork last September saw Katie Power as low as camogie has ever left her, despite winning her fourth All Star.
"Right up to Christmas it was awful," she admits. "You had everyone coming up saying 'you should have done this, you should have done that' but we tried our best. The game just didn't go the way we planned."
She loves working as a receptionist in Michael Lyng's garage in the shadow of Nowlan Park where the boss "is a gent and looks after me unreal". But, when things go skewiff, she's right in the firing line. "It's so great to have people come in talking camogie rather than the hurling and they probably try to say the right thing, but you'd find yourself nearly going into the bathroom to wipe the tears away before going back out again. It wouldn't be what that person was saying. They could have been trying to say something nice. It was just the hurt was so awful. Obviously we didn't intend to go out and play like that. It just went to shit and, personally, I was off the ball completely. It was the worst sporting experience I've ever put in."
That's saying a lot for a prodigy who, 11 years ago, made her county senior debut aged 16, played in a senior All-Ireland a year later and has lost another four finals in the last six years. But the wheels must go back on. Kilkenny didn't return to collective training until after Christmas and drew a line under 2018 at a team meeting in November. "Before we went back training I still felt absolutely crap, but it feels great to be back with the girls. They're the only ones who really know how you're feeling," Power notes. "There's no point in thinking back on it. OK, we'll have to look back at bits and pieces of that match as the year goes by, just to try to learn. But there's no point in re-living that. Since we've come back it hasn't been spoken about. We've moved on."
If Kilkenny really are to kick on, they'll need strong leaders, especially as they've lost Shelly Farrell (gone to Australia for a year), and Power will be one of them. She has previously spoken out about physical and mental health, and how becoming stronger, rather than skinny, can help conquer the scourge of her gender's increased body image and self-confidence issues.
"The mental health issue in Ireland is unfortunately getting worse, with so many suicides or people having suicidal thoughts. Social media side can be great for promoting so many great aspects of sport, but social media can also have such negative impacts on people's lives as well."
Through fitness training with a local gym and coach, Matt Cooney, she's involved in some online coaching now and sees that first hand.
"There's so many people with body dysmorphia. People would be telling you 'I want to lose weight, I want to lose three or four stone' and you're thinking 'if you lost that you'd be unhealthy!' My thing is always to emphasise strength and getting stronger. When you look at yourself and see yourself as physically strong, that can only be good for your physical and mental health. The older I get the more I appreciate what camogie has done for me," she reflects.
"But it is hard to keep people interested. I know the camogie (association) and different schools are doing great work, but I really feel like secondary school is the place to do even more to keep girls involved in sport."
Her own thriving club convinces her it is possible - with the right people at the helm. Piltown won the All-Ireland intermediate final in 2015 and reached their first county senior final last winter.
"We're only a tiny place but have two adult camogie teams, junior and senior, and have so many young girls playing. I think that's down to the officers in the club. You're there to win obviously, but there's a great sense of fun in the club.
"We've actually a good few girls who went to college and gave up for a year, but they missed the craic so much they came back the following season. That's fantastic to see. Having a junior team is great too because anyone not getting a match with the seniors is still getting a game."
When they narrowly lost that first senior final to Thomastown it actually took place at 11.0 in the morning. With Piltown's hurlers, including her brother, also in the county final the same day, they requested an early throw-in and their opposition and local camogie board facilitated it.
Power's game may be forced to play second fiddle at times but she feels the end sometimes justifies the means. For the second year in a row, the Littlewoods National League has an early season start today, when three in-a-row champs Kilkenny host Clare.
"I don't mind starting in January. You'd always prefer to be playing a match rather than training and I presume the camogie (association) are trying to run it with the hurling (leagues), so that whoever gets to the final gets to play in front of the lads' (final). Personally I think that's great."
The sponsors are streaming six games on their Facebook page this season (five more than 2018), starting with Cork v Tipp today. The aim is to grow camogie's audience further. The challenge for Kilkenny is to keep theirs satisfied.
Today - Div 1: Kilkenny v Clare, Tipperary v Cork, Wexford v Waterford, Offaly v Limerick. #styleofplay
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