‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick eager to help Ballyhale to another Leinster title

Ballyhale star has no regrets about decision to end his intercounty career with Kilkenny at just 26

Cha Fitzpatrick says to give him a call around teatime but to make sure it's before seven. Which is no problem. With a Leinster final next up on Sunday for Ballyhale, you presume he'll be out training after that. "Not at all," says Cha. "I'm going to see John Bishop in the O2. Should be a good laugh."

So rolls Cha, The Man Who Walked Away. In the week that JJ Delaney became the 11th member of the Kilkenny team that started the 2008 All-Ireland final to retire from inter-county, Fitzpatrick – who was their captain that day – still gets asked how it was that he was the youngest of them to go.

Not yet 30, he whistles the happy tune of a man entirely comfortable with the life he chose three years ago.

“Down home a few supporters would ask me about it alright,” he says. “I said before that I have no regrets at all. I enjoyed my time with Kilkenny but hurling is just a pastime with me. I’m playing wing-forward but I have a roving role around midfield and I’m there to try and get on a bit of ball and move it on. I’m enjoying it, things have gone very well.


“It’s a huge relief to get out of your county because it’s so difficult to do. We’re hurling with a lot of freedom and the pressure is off. I don’t feel any pressure whatsoever going into Sunday and I don’t think the lads do either.

Each play

“This is just enjoyment now. A lot of players sometimes get caught up with worrying about the scoreboard and whether you’re going to win or not. But to me, you’re putting the cart before the horse if you’re doing that. You just have to worry about each play as it happens and the scoreboard will follow. You play what’s in front of you and whatever happens, happens.”

A teacher in Dublin, Fitzpatrick hits the road once a week to go back to Ballyhale for training. Otherwise he tips away on his own and hits up with them on the weekend. He does a bit of DJing, has been known to play a hand of poker here and then. It’s a full life. It probably shouldn’t seem in any way odd that he felt he didn’t need inter-county hurling to top it up.

“Three sessions a week is enough to keep me fit. Without being Olympic standard! But the difference is huge between now and inter-county. You couldn’t but be fit playing inter-county. They’d give you a body fat test at the start of the year and you could be up at around 20 per cent. And then you’d come back six months later and it would be down to around 10 or 11.

“And you’d feel that, you’d know by your own body that you’d be down around that. I’d say now, I’d be somewhere in the middle. But sure I haven’t done one of those tests since I was playing with Kilkenny.”

He’s lost none of the nuance and vision that made him Young Hurler of the Year in 2006. His display against Kilmacud Crokes in the semi-final two weeks ago was a minimalist masterpiece filled with short hand-passes, smart catches and clever lay-offs. He did plenty of running off the ball but barely took a step in possession all day. It was stripped back and spare, Raymond Carver in white and green.

Solo run

“Well in the conditions,” he reasons, “that’s the only way you can play. You’re not going to get far going off on a big solo run, you’re not going to burn too many fellas off. Well, I’m not anyway. So it’s a case of letting the ball do the work. Keep it simple. This time of year, it’s bread and butter hurling . . ..

“It’s great to still be at it and to have won the county title and all that but really hurling in December shouldn’t be happening. The ball is slow, the players are slow, the game is just different to what it should be . . .

“The GAA are always on about the club, the club. But sure look at us, still hurling in December. We didn’t play a do-or-die game with the club this year until the last week in October. I know the All-Ireland went to a replay and whatever but still. It’s all about the inter-county game for the GAA, everybody can see that. Club players are getting really frustrated.”

Still, a Leinster title come mid-afternoon tomorrow and they’ll not mind too much.

Fitzpatrick has three such medals tucked away already and if they happen upon a fourth, he'll largely attribute it to the decision to station Joey Holden at full-back and Mick Fennelly at six.

“If we hadn’t made those changes, we wouldn’t have won the county title and we wouldn’t be involved on Sunday. We’ve always been very good at getting scores, banging in goals and building up a lead.

“But it often happened that all the good work would be undone by a goal going in the other end. The two lads have made it all a bit more secure there.”

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times