Thursday 26 April 2018

Cha 'a bit worried' with Cats' League form

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

He cuts a relaxed figure, sitting in the spring sunshine on O'Connell Street in Dublin with a milkshake in hand, but Kilkenny hurler James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick has plenty on his mind.

Less than a month on from claiming the All-Ireland club championship just up the road at Croke Park, the Ballyhale star's thoughts are back on the black and amber.

The league hasn't been kind to Kilkenny this year, with three defeats ruling out any hope of retaining their title, and while 'Cha' is well aware that the All-Ireland five-in-a-row is on the cards, he also knows that the winter has seen a rising tide of pretenders to their crown.

Three teams in particular have caught his eye, but he says the competition will be fiercer than ever come the championship.

"It will be an interesting year," he said, speaking in Supermacs at a fund-raiser for the Alan Kerins' African Projects. "It's going to be really, really difficult. Tougher than any other year of the last four years.

"You're at the top and everyone else is there to knock you down and the other teams are doing a lot of training, a lot of building and it's coming right for them.

"It's a little different for us this year, we won't be involved in the latter stages of the league, but we'll still plug away and focus on the championship. We're obviously disappointed, you try and win every match that you play but things didn't happen that way.

"You'd have to be a bit worried that we weren't producing the goods in the league. Brian Cody places a lot of emphasis on winning the league and it's a little bit different this year. Hopefully we'll be ready."

League finalists Cork impressed the 25-year-old primary school teacher, while the presence of Galway on the other side of the Leinster championship draw means the Cats' eyes will also be focused west. Fitzpatrick says he was massively impressed by the Tribesmen during their 2-21 to 1-23 league win last month.

"Galway and Tipperary are never too far away," he said. "Tipperary really put it up to Kilkenny last year and will have learned from that experience.

"In fairness to Galway, they ran us ragged on the day at Nowlan Park when they beat us in the league and we had no answer to them in the end. Maybe it was a lack of work on our part on the day, but regardless, they were very good on the day and they have the Portumna lads to come back to fortify the team.

"Cork are very good, they seem to have a few new lads to freshen things up, while they still have a lot of experience as well."

Even at this early stage, talk of the historic five-in-a-row is cropping up and in the hurling cauldron that is Kilkenny, it's hard to avoid.

"No doubt it is," Fitzpatrick admitted. "But similar to the last couple of years when there was talk of three-in-a-rows and four-in-a-rows, I suppose as the management team says, it's just another year and we have to focus on winning it this year.

"You're always trying to keep things freshened up and there's a danger that things can go stale.

"All the other teams are really out to get you, every neutral in the country wants to see Kilkenny beaten, that's the way sport is, but we'll just focus on our own game."

Irish Independent

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