Sunday 17 December 2017

I'm sure Oulart are itching to get back at us – Fitzpatrick

An hour's hurling is all that stands between Ballyhale Shamrocks and a place in the Leinster club championship final, but James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick expects a blitzkrieg from opponents Oulart-The Ballagh at Wexford Park today.

This is the refixture after last weekend's semi-final had to be abandoned just half an hour before the start due to the waterlogged state of the pitch.

And in the meantime, Fitzpatrick reckons that Oulart's determination to derail the Kilkenny champions will only have increased.

"Oulart-The Ballagh have a lot of experience and a lot of their players are involved with the Wexford senior team," he said.

"I remember a few years ago we were very lucky to come out with a win against them. It was the last puck of the game, we were down a point and I don't know how Eoin Reid managed it, but he somehow flicked the ball over the bar with three lads on him and it went to extra-time.

"I'm sure Oulart are itching to get back at us and put one over us."

Fitzpatrick opted out of the Kilkenny senior panel last year at the ripe young age of 26 and recently reiterated his intention to focus only on the club scene.

The holder of five All-Ireland medals and former Cats captain, Fitzpatrick based his goals for 2012 around Ballyhale.

"At the start of the year my main goal was to win the county final. Now that that is done, anything else is kind of a bonus and it's a fast winter the way it's flying by," he said.

"We're just caught up in the whole thing, in the thick of it and just hurling away.

"Last Sunday we were togged out ready to go and psyched up for the game.

"It was very upsetting, but the right decision was made. It's just a pity we didn't know a couple of hours earlier rather than go through the whole tog-out and ready to go routine."

For a club founded only 40 years ago, the Shamrocks have been remarkably successful, with 14 county titles and a record five All-Ireland club championships on the honours list.

As a child, Fitzpatrick was reared on the tradition of achievement within the club and county, and there's no likelihood of his appetite for winning trophies being sated.

"It's a great tradition in the club. Growing up as a young lad, all you're hearing is the great tradition of the teams of the '70s and the '80s, the Fennellys and all these names," he said.

"We had a lot to live up to and, thankfully, we had a good run there with a four in a row of county titles and we picked up two All-Irelands along the way.

"When you're there you have to grab these opportunities. We realised there was a long time when Shamrocks senior team won nothing and even were relegated down to intermediate. It comes and goes in cycles."

Success doesn't bring any guarantees for the game against Oulart-The Ballagh, but winning five county titles in seven years, and All-Irelands in 2007 and 2010, does build up resilience and confidence.

"Things are always going to get sticky at some point, but when the chips are down, if you've done it before, there's probably less panic among the team if you do go behind," said Fitzpatrick.


"Every team is going to have a purple patch within a game. So, when the opposition does get that purple patch, you just have to dig in, and eventually your team should be able to get on top again and drive it on from there.

"It's about not panicking and trusting each other if things don't go well."

There were a couple of tricky moments in the county final against Dicksboro, notably when Henry Shefflin had two first-half penalties saved.

Failure to take those chances could have proved fatal to many a team, but that wasn't the case with Ballyhale, which is evidence of the value of hard-earned experience.

"With a profile like Henry's it's nearly like a score to the opposition if they (penalties) don't go in," said Fitzpatrick.

"The opposition might get a bit of a kick out of it, but it didn't really affect us as a team. You just get ready for the next ball.

"And it wouldn't affect Henry either. You just get ready for the next ball and keep creating.

"That's what we did in the county final. We kept creating chances. Fair enough we missed a good few and we missed a few goal chances, but you're not going to score unless you keep creating them."

Irish Independent

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