I don't feel bitter, but there's definitely regrets, says Kilkenny legend Richie Power
Richie Power looks into the abyss of a life without hurling - and does not like what he sees.
Power (30) an eight-time All-Ireland winner, presents a strong front to the outside world, but admits that he still feels the seismic vibration of being told his career was over following a sixth operation on his worn-out left knee.
He did not see it coming, despite the struggle to gain a modicum of confidence in the damaged leg, and despite his barely squeezing into Brian Cody's 26-man panel for September's All-Ireland final against Galway.
Coming up to his 30th birthday in December, he still reckoned there was hope of a better 2016. And then came the words he never really thought he would hear.
They were delivered in the Whitfield Clinic in Waterford, where Power had his most recent surgery in October.
"After the operation the surgeon came in and he dropped it in to conversation - 'your playing days are more than likely over'," he recalls.
"I sat there for a few minutes thinking 'did he actually say that?'. There was anger, there was disbelief driving back up the road.
"I rang our own team doctor, Dr Tadhg Crowley and asked him to ring Tadhg O'Sullivan (surgeon) because they're very good friends, and to ask him why he came to this conclusion.
"He (Crowley) rang me back late that Tuesday night and more or less told me 'Look, it is the right call', and said that if I continue training at the top level for maybe the next year or two, the likelihood is the knee would just break.
"So, you're looking at a knee replacement at 32 years of age, no-one wants to face into that."
He is not ashamed to admit tears were shed that day.
The vinegar in the psychological wound comes from being told he will probably never run again, that playing with his club Carrickshock at the level of performance he expects of himself is unlikely.
But Power (below) refuses to accept he could be denied a chance to hurl with even relative freedom alongside his clubmates now that the all-consuming commitment to inter-county hurling is over.
Technically, it is possible he can find a way to wear the club colours with distinction.
Physically? When you have a left knee that has no cartilage, so it's all bone on bone inside that most important leg joint, the outlook is bleak.
"Unfortunately, my field playing days are very limited now, at the moment. I just hope that, in July/August, I'll get back doing a bit with the club," he says.
"It's more a hope than anything, to be fair, but that's the aim."
Cycling and gym work, and plenty of both activities, is the core of Power's fitness regime.
He will get a chance to test himself in the An Post Cycle Series, consisting of five events being held around the country between May and September.
As fate would have it, those months represent Championship season for Kilkenny hurlers, and the question is put straight to Power - is he bitter?
"I don't feel bitter towards it, but regrets? Definitely," he says.
"I suppose if I'd been told last January that my knee wasn't in a good place, to take 12 months off, I would have done that if it meant prolonging my career for another four or five years. But that wasn't the case.
"I continued to keep going and probably pushed my body too much, too hard, to get back for an All-Ireland or for Championship.
Two weeks before the Liam MacCarthy Cup decider against Galway, Power was not in the squad. The knee had been in serious trouble since a club match in April, and he admits he was being careful of it.
"Brian pulled me aside and said 'Look, you have two training sessions next week to either get yourself on the panel or get yourself into contention, or you just pack it in now'," he explains.
Packing it in was not an option. Power had suffered enough in trying to get his body as fit as it was. And then came a minor miracle.
"Whatever prayers I said that weekend, the knee actually came right for the two weeks leading up to the All-Ireland, so to even make the panel of 26 was a huge achievement for me," he says.
"But when you look at the whole year with Kilkenny, I played one full game in a fundraiser game down in Cork and then 12 minutes of an All-Ireland final.
"It's very, very frustrating, but obviously when the final whistle went, there was satisfaction there."
Power knew that he faced more surgery after the final.
Inwardly, he believed this would give him a fighting chance to compete for a place on Cody's team in 2016.
He never thought his days with Kilkenny would end so abruptly. The love of hurling and desire to give back to his club is the spur for his ambition to play again.