To lose one all All-Ireland senior final is hard. To lose three in-a-row seems beyond heartbreak yet Kilkenny ace Katie Power subsequently experienced an even bigger low last Winter.
She still can’t bring herself to watch the tape of Kilkenny’s loss to Galway yet says that “losing the county final with Piltown, getting beaten by the last puck of the ball, that was even worse. The year before we’d run Thomastown to a point in our first ever senior final. So, to get back and be two points ahead of Dicksboro and then for them to get a last-minute goal, that was soul-destroying. Just wicked. I still have nightmares over it. It honestly felt worse even than losing the last three All-Ireland finals.”
On top of that Power played out the climax of her and Kilkenny’s season with a very bad hand injury that turned out to be far more serious than first imagined. She broke the ring finger of her right hand in training a month before the All-Ireland semi-finals: “Broken and dislocated, you name it. I’d had trouble with that finger before too.” She needed pain-killing injections just to get through the climax of the inter-county season and somehow soldiered on through the county championship, but she needed surgery three weeks ago that will keep her out of the entire Ireland National League. Two surgeons in St Vincent’s in Dublin – a hand specialist and a plastic surgeon who specialises in fingers – did the complicated operation which reconstructed her finger using another bone from her hand “and three pins in it to keep it together.”
Yet, somehow, Power remains upbeat, the kind of player for whom the glass is always half-full, not half-drained. “Look, it could be worse. It could be my foot or leg and the doctors have been brilliant. This isn’t my first long layoff either,” she notes, reminding you of her broken kneecap that needed four operations in 2015. “So mentally I’m not too bad at the moment. Injuries are a part of sport and you just have to be able to deal with them,” she stoically insists.
But it’s got to be especially hard given her usual gym-bunny lifestyle. Any showreel of Power’s awesome skills demonstrates why she’s the scourge of defenders across the country. Yet she has never freewheeled on that alone, instead building herself into a supreme athlete from the scrawny flier who sprinted for Carrick-on-Suir AC in her youth. “I was quite little and quite fast, not so much now!” she acknowledges with a laugh. I won medals for 80m and 100m in Munster and went to Mosney for All-Irelands which was brilliant fun.”
Also gifted at gaelic football and soccer, she was part of a Carrick’ schools’ team that won a Munster soccer title and included her best friend Karen Duggan who went on to play senior for Ireland.
“Karen’s from Piltown too, we’d be so proud of her. She’s still playing for Peamount and if she wasn’t playing soccer, she’d easily make inter-county camogie. She still plays for our club. “But I didn’t really like athletics as much because it was very individual. I found that quite lonely. Even at that age I knew I loved team sport and camogie was the one for me.”
Not being able to train with her teammates at present is pretty tough. “I really miss it when I can’t exercise. Even just going to the gym helps me clear my head but I was able to go back to do a little in the past fortnight, just some leg work and back on the cross-trainer. Realistically I won’t be back with Kilkenny until the Championship,” she concedes but fortunately some distraction is provided by yet another string in her multi-talented bow.
Power has done some courses in nutrition and Kilkenny hurling star TJ Reid, who runs his own gym, asked her to get involved in one of his latest initiatives. “It’s called Calorie Club Kilkenny. We started it last November and I do it in the mornings from 6:30- 8:45am, before going to work in the garage. Basically, we’re trying to teach people the fundamentals of eating properly and creating a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. You see other clubs counting points and stuff, but we want to show people that they can fuel themselves properly and still live a healthy, normal life. Eight per cent of these people wouldn’t even have the self-confidence to go to a gym. They’re at a real crossroads in their lives and it’s so rewarding to see their smiles appear and their confidence grow,” Power says.
She is the oldest of three and her two brothers also hurl for Piltown, the family’s sporting obsession.
“We live about a mile or two from the pitch and before we had our own cars we’d cycle down. Anything to have a few pucks. Dad hurled in goal for Piltown for years and trained all the club teams from underage up and Mam is secretary of the camogie club at the moment. Our good underage structure has paid off. We now have Kellyann Doyle, her sister Aoife and Aoife Norris from the Kilkenny seniors and my first-cousin Michael Brennan coaching us.”
Like lots of inter-county players Power has her own idiosyncracies. “I put on a brand-new grip before every big game. The old one would have nothing wrong with it, but I still change it. It’s just a mad habit I got into a few years ago and such a waste of money! Up until I was 13 or 14, I used to solo the ball with two hands. My dad was constantly trying to correct me, so I had to learn to solo all over again.”
Yet, remarkably, her first two appearances in Croke Park were for football, in the Cumann na mBunscol half-time Mini-Games. “The teams were a mix of all counties and I didn’t know anyone. The first year I played was the Armagh/Dublin All-Ireland men’s senior football final (2002) and again the next year for the Tyrone/Armagh final.” The next time she played in the GAA’s Mecca was in the 2009 All-Ireland camogie final against Cork.
So, imagine her surprise to get approached, at the end of last summer, about kicking a football again – albeit an oval one this time. “I actually thought someone was messing with me when a man with an Australian accent contacted me to see if I’d be interested. He was from CrossCoders who usually recruit inter-county footballers for the women’s Aussie Rules (AFLW). I went to a little blitz match up in Dublin and went to Cork for a few meetings, but I don’t think, realistically, I was ever going to make it,” she insists. “Camogie’s number one for me right now anyway but who knows, maybe in a few years if the offer is still there. I reckon they were just looking at my athleticism and hoping to teach me the skills, but it was kind of cool to be asked.”
Now she’s focussed on making a full recovery and pursuing another All-Ireland medal and her passion remains intact. “When the club finished last year, I honestly didn’t want to think about anything, not even camogie, but the way I look at it, we’ll be finished playing long enough so you keep going.” She’s been a fascinated spectator at Kilkenny’s league games to far, especially given the experimental rules. “I think it will be hard for referees to be consistent on some of them, but they look like they’ll only benefit the game. The players are delighted to see them coming in and would love to see them kept for the championship.” In the 12 years since her senior debut Power has seen many changes in the inter-county game. “You’d nearly laugh now thinking of some of the things we did in training back then. Fitness levels have shot up even in the last five years alone.
The coverage, with more television and streaming especially, has changed hugely and Very have really boosted the coverage of the national league. I was part of their latest video ‘Style Meets Substance’ which is really class. I think it’s already got a quarter of a million views.”
She is also of the generation finally rewarded and showcased by camogie’s first Allstar Tours. “Yes, I’m lucky enough to have gone to Madrid (2017) and then New York last year. I’d probably be shy enough to talk to someone I don’t know, and I think a lot of the girls would be like that, but everyone mingles. The Allstar trips are such brilliant crack and you’re having it with people who are your arch rivals for the other nine months a-year. That really surprised me the first year. Going to New York was amazing. So many great things were organised for us. We went out to Ellis Island which was very cool and played in Gaelic Park which was class. On the morning of the match the photographer Dan wanted to get some photos down in Central Park so suddenly you had 30 to 40 Irish girls pucking around down there and it was mad. There was loads of people coming over wondering what the hell we were doing. “
“That was pretty special, and I couldn’t help thinking ‘when will I ever, in my life, get the chance to do this again?’”