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"Then You're Just Wondering - What's Going On In The WhatsApp Group?"

By PJ Browne Updated
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Regrets - Richie Power certainly has at least one.

If he had been advised in January of last year that taking a 12-month break would have ensured the extension of his hurling career, then he would have done so. Instead, he played on and ended up having three surgeries on his left knee in 2015.

Power retired from the inter-county game in January, on the advice of doctors. His left knee is bereft of cartilage - it's just bone grinding on bone.

Despite the injury troubles of 2015 - which began during a soggy club game in April - Power would manage to recuperate sufficiently to allow an All-Ireland final cameo against Galway. It would be the eighth and last time he walked the steps of the Hogan Stand to collect an All-Ireland medal.

Speaking at the launch of the An Post Cycle Series, Power told us just how tough that can be to come to terms with.

I don’t feel bitter, but regrets - definitely. If I had been told last January that my knee wasn’t in a good place and that taking 12 months off might prolong my career for another four or five years I would have done that. That wasn’t the case.

I continued to stay going and I probably pushed my body too much, too hard, to try to get back for an All-Ireland or Championship game. To put my body through what I did last year to get 12 minutes of an All-Ireland final, that’s probably a regret. Fair enough, walking off the field I didn’t think it was going to be my last time in Croke Park, but it turned out that way. If I had have taken 12 months off, who knows, the knee might be better than it is now. But we’ll never know.

In recent years, a common symbolic moment of inter-county retirement has developed - leaving the panel Whatsapp group.

Last year, Richie Hogan tweeted Henry Shefflin's departure.

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Like Shefflin, Power also had to click that big red 'Exit Group' button.

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You don't get kicked out. Just the day before the announcement was due to be made, I stuck it up on the Whatsapp group just thanking all the lads, wishing them the best of luck and you just leave yourself then.

I suppose in your head then you're just wondering 'What's going on in the Whatsapp group?' It used to be great craic. There used to be some great messages in it. I can only imagine what was said about me after I left. We set our own one up in the club then trying to get a bit of craic going, you do miss it but you just have to move on.

The moment when Power discovered that he would never play inter-county hurling again, understandably, elicited tears.

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After his final operation of 2015, one which left him on crutches for 11 weeks, he was told by surgeon Tadhg O'Sullivan that his days at the top level of the game were over.

To be honest about it, there were tears in the room. It was dropped into conversation, rather than being sat down face to face. After the operation, the surgeon came in and went through the operation with me and just dropped it in 'Your playing days are more than likely over.' I sat there for a few minutes thinking 'Did he actually say it?'

There was anger, there was disbelief. Driving back up the road, I rang our own doctor, Dr. Crowley, and I just asked him if he'd mind ringing Tadhg O'Sullivan because they'd be very good friends. Just to ask him why they came to this conclusion.

He rang me back late that Tuesday night and told me 'It's the right call.' and that if continue training and the top level for another year or two, the likelihood is that the knee will break. You'd be looking at a knee replacement at 32-years-old and no one wants to face into that.

Power still holds out hope of playing for his club Carrickshock - even if it is just in goal. Sometime later this year, perhaps in July or August for the knockout stages of the club championship is the aim. Despite hard work in the gym to rehabilitate his knee, those hopes of continuing for Carrickshock are faint.

The root of those fragile hopes goes back 14 years to Power's first knee surgery. Had the procedure been at the level which it is today, the eight-time All-Ireland winner might have been seeking his ninth medal in 2016.

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I got my first operation when I was 16, a keyhole operation when I was training with St Kieran’s College. And at that stage I was doing a lot of hurling. You were probably playing U16 with club, colleges, county, minors club, county, under-21 club. There was an awful lot going on but it’s no different to what the underage are doing today.

I think the big thing was operations have improved over the years; they took cartilage out of my knee, when I was 16, which they don’t do now, they try and reattach it. I was told the minute they took cartilage out of my knee it weakens the knee. So maybe my problems started when I was 16, I don’t know. But in fairness when I graduated past U21 you really only had two teams, your club senior team and your county senior team.

We were never over trained. I don’t know if you call it bad luck or the fact my problems started when I was 16 and the knee was gradually getting worse as the years progressed. The three operations in the space of 10 months last year didn’t help.

A return to club hurling is something which Power had long been looking forward to. 11 years on the inter-county panel limited his time with Carrickshock. If that, along with with the inter-county game is taken away from him, it would be a double blow.

In a way it allows you to go back to the club scene and go back to the guys you've hurled all your life with since you were at school - which is great. It's been great to get back to the guys and get involved. I'm hoping that I'll be able to play towards the end of the year. Every player looks forward to going back to their club when they retire. Talking to Tommy Walsh, it's a new lease of life for him. Talking to the Tullaroan guys, he's always the first on the field, he's there before training; same with Henry.

I was hoping and looking forward to doing that because you're away for years and you don't get to spend as much time with the club as you'd like. If I have to walk away from both at the same time, it's going to be a massive disappointment for me. Personally, because you want to go back to your club and give something back. If you're not able to do it, it's going to be very hard to take.

The likelihood is I'll never run again and that's hard to take. I'm kind of clutching at straws to get back to the club and that's very frustrating as well. The process I'm going through at the moment is very frustrating. I'm in the gym on my own while the lads are out in the field going through the pre-season slog.

For more information about the An Post Cycle Series, you can visit their website.

Picture credit: Sportsfile

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