Thursday 23 November 2017

Fitzpatrick saw the writing on the wall

Cha Fitzpatrick calls time, before time: Sometime in late 2010, when Brian Cody sat down to review that September's All-Ireland final defeat to Tipperary, I'm sure certain aspects of the loss won't have sat well with him.

In his heart the Kilkenny boss will have known that if he could get his team right in 2011, Tipperary were the only side with the requisite firepower and athleticism to take Kilkenny down. Consequently, devising strategies to curb the influence that Tipperary's key players -- Pádraic Maher, Lar Corbett, and Brendan Maher -- exerted over Kilkenny would have been high on the list of priorities. In particular, the manner in which the young Borrisoleigh man completely eclipsed Cha Fitzpatrick in that opening 35 minutes can't have been lost on Cody.

In my mind, the decision was made last winter, that Cha had met his match, and if he couldn't cope with Maher then a different breed of animal would be required in Kilkenny's midfield.

Yet, with Michael Rice sited all season in the Kilkenny half-forward line, a clear nod it appeared to quietening Pádraic Maher, Cha would surely have felt there was room for him to get back in the side in 2011. He wasn't the only Kilkenny player to perform below par in that final, and had come back from a similar disappointing display in the 2004 final to have three cracking years from 2006 to 2008.

That the season played out as it did, with him confined to a peripheral role of just 20 minutes' action in the championship must have been a bitter pill to swallow. That his form appeared better than ever, especially when it mattered most in August and September, when by all accounts he was flying, only added to the frustration. Certainly, by bringing on Paddy Hogan ahead of him in the semi-final win over Waterford, the message that Cha was no longer in the plans for Tipperary was pretty clear for anyone paying enough attention.

Ultimately, players want to play. When you've achieved the ultimate and led your team up the steps of the Hogan Stand to accept the Liam McCarthy, as Cha has, the prospect of spending another season warming the bench in the firm belief the manager has lost faith in you is pretty hard to take. That's especially the case if you've won All-Irelands and All Stars and really performed on the biggest stage as Cha has.

Consequently, Fitzpatrick had concluded, and probably rightly, that as long as Brian Cody remained at the helm, there would be no way back.

Cha won't know himself next summer. As a teacher, with two months off next July and August, he has the opportunity to travel and do the type of things his young colleagues take for granted. Now, at least, that appears a far more attractive proposition than putting down another season living the Spartan lifestyle required of an inter-county hurler.

While come the summer there aren't too many better places to be than out living the dream in Croke Park in front of 50,000 or 60,000 people, the trade-off has probably been made easier in his mind by the knowledge that once his manager forms an opinion, he usually isn't for turning.

Jamesie O'Connor

Sunday Indo Sport

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