| 10.9°C Dublin

'It was the right time to go - now I'm at my happiest on the golf course'

Close

James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick has no regrets about walking away from hurling. Photo: Damien Eagers

James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick has no regrets about walking away from hurling. Photo: Damien Eagers

James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick has no regrets about walking away from hurling. Photo: Damien Eagers

James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick hasn't spoken to Brian Cody since he picked up the phone in November 2011 to tell him that he was walking away from inter-county hurling.

No grudges, no regrets. That's just how it is in Kilkenny; life and hurling move on quickly and Fitzpatrick knew that.

At the start of the year, he'd set out his own individual goals, the usual high-achieving stuff for a Kilkenny hurler: claim a regular place in the team, win the National League, win Leinster, win the All-Ireland.

Fitzpatrick started in the National League final against Dublin, finished the game too, but Kilkenny lost by 12 points.

Cody's Championship reshuffle saw Fitzpatrick out in the cold. In four games, the man who had been captain in 2008 played just 18 minutes, coming on against Dublin as a sub in the Leinster final.

He finished the season with a fifth All-Ireland senior medal but Fitzpatrick, just 26 at the time, had his mind made up.

He says: "I felt it was the natural time to go. I had my goals set out at the start of the year and if I didn't achieve them, I was gone. If I achieved them, who knows, but I'm happy. I went to California, from San Fran down to San Diego. And it would open your eyes to a different perspective.

"Ireland is a great country and the GAA is brilliant but I felt like I was in a cage for a while. I needed to have a break and see different cultures. America's a different ball game."

Fitzpatrick left with a multitude of memories and medals.

He'd won All-Irelands medals with Kilkenny in all grades from U-16 right through to senior. And he captained St Kieran's to Leinster and All-Ireland colleges glory.

Success

He also remembers a Féile na nGael success with Ballyhale in 1998, when he played alongside Michael Fennelly at midfield. All told, he really couldn't have done much more.

Fitzpatrick adds: "Probably burned out in a way, going non-stop from primary school really, all the way up.

"And because we were so successful with Ballyhale as well, it meant we were hurling all year round.

"My hips are at me as well, damaged cartilage. I felt that coming against me and an influx of bigger players as well, for example Michael Fennelly powered onto the scene, and Michael Rice. Those lads could get from 21 to 21, up and down the field all day."

And so there was no great mystery behind that phone call to Cody, which he remembers was a "short enough" one.

Fitzpatrick says: "It's a cut-throat business. Things move on. Brian doesn't become friendly with players. He runs it as a business and keeps it very professional.

"I don't know if it's the right way or not but it's proven very successful. He doesn't really give a s**t what people think. He blocks out other people's opinions and you have to do that, as a manager.

"Sometimes he gets notions and people around the county are wondering what the hell is going on here but look at Walter Walsh in 2012.

"People would have said it was a massive gamble. I would have said it myself, this is madness, but Walter was man of the match in the final (replay)."

That victory over Galway provided Cody with a ninth All-Ireland success as manager, and Henry Shefflin with his ninth as a player. And while Fitzpatrick marvels at Henry, Tommy, JJ, Jackie and Brian Hogan and their thirst for more, he puts forward a theory.

"You probably become a little bit institutionalised," he says. "You've been doing it for so long. It's just a way of life.

"A lot of supporters would ask me do I miss it and would I go back and I say absolutely no, no way."

Next Sunday, Kilkenny look to do it all over again, but Fitzpatrick, who played against Tipp in the 2010 final defeat, fears a repeat of history.

These games, he says, are "like being locked in a UFC cage." There's no room to breathe and Fitzpatrick warns: "I am concerned about this Tipperary team.

"Ever since they got beaten early on in the year, things have completely turned on their head. It's toss of a coin really but I would not be going into the match complacent as a Kilkenny supporter, I'll put it like that."

But whatever happens at Croke Park, Fitzpatrick will park events quickly and head for the sanctity of the golf course.

He'd dabbled with the sport in the past but became enthralled by it over the last three years.

"I won the monthly medal there in Gowran, cut into 4.8, so (playing off) five. I love playing golf," he says.

"The thing about it is there are so many different areas to improve on and work on. I think it's a game I'll be playing in a rocking chair."

Another of Fitzpatrick's passions is music and he occasionally works as a DJ. He was 16 at the time of his brother's 21st and had his own set of amateur decks at home.

Fitzpatrick recalls: "I said I'd do it for the night. It worked out well, I bought my own gear shortly after that."

DJ'ing is part of his make-up now, same as the golf, and helps to provide Fitzpatrick with the strong sense of independence that he treasures.

A single man, he enjoys his freedom and describes himself as a "sole person."

And he reveals: "I'm happiest when I'm out on the golf course, time doesn't exist. Any problems, anything, nothing exists.

"You're just in your own little world. What I like about the golf is that everything is down to yourself. I'm kind of an individual person anyway.

"I know it's kind of a selfish game. When things go well, it's all down to yourself but when they don't go well, you'll blame yourself.

"I like looking back on rounds and assessing rounds, where you went wrong and trying to improve on that."

Fitzpatrick is still very much in touch with hurling, too, at club level with Ballyhale.

But he's living and teaching in Dublin, at St Olaf's primary school in Dundrum, a stone's throw from the shopping centre.

He says: "I like Dublin, busy the whole time and I like the anonymity, being away from things, doing my own thing.

"Lovely staff, lovely principal, lovely class this year. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Simple philosophy. Works well.

Irish Independent