Fitzpatrick focused on quest for third title

Casting his mind back to September 2004, Kilkenny's James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick remembers a month of mixed emotions in the black and amber jersey.

Casting his mind back to September 2004, Kilkenny's James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick remembers a month of mixed emotions in the black and amber jersey.

It was a debut year in the senior team for the Ballyhale Shamrocks player, who lined out at the tender age of 19 at right corner-forward and scored a point in the All-Ireland senior final.

However, it all ended agonisingly in the quest for Liam McCarthy on the first Sunday of September, as Cork engineered a 0-17 to 0-9 victory to claim their 29th All-Ireland success.

It was to be a bittersweet week for 'Cha' as just six days later at Nowlan Park, he captained the Kilkenny Under-21s to the All-Ireland title, with then President of the GAA Sean Kelly giving Fitzpatrick a guiding hand to lift the Cross of Cashel trophy after he had been substituted earlier in the game due to injury.

Previously Fitzpatrick was captain of the St Kieran's College side that claimed the Croke Cup in 2003, and this weekend he vies for his third All-Ireland medal skippering a side.

On Sunday he steps up to the mark as a Kilkenny captain once more, hoping to steer his troops to a 31st All-Ireland senior title.

But it is clear that this leadership role is not a burden to him and it sits well on his shoulders.

"In the Kilkenny squad most of the players are leaders and most of the players do a lot of talking in their own way," he said.

"Obviously Brian (Cody) is the main man and he is a very inspirational man to talk and get us going for a match.

"I don't put too much pressure on myself. The way that I see it is that I'm just one cog, one fifteenth of a cog and that's the way it works."

And while 'Cha' is eagerly looking forward to taking part in another All-Ireland final, he is keen to dismiss any hype around the novel fixture, which sees Waterford taking part in their first decider in 45 years and chasing their first All-Ireland success since 1959.

"It's great to be going into an All-Ireland final with Kilkenny and it's a marvellous opportunity for us going for three in-a-row.

"You can dress it up whatever way you want but at the end of the day it's just a match - us and Waterford, 15 against 15 and the best team is going to win on the day. All we are planning for is just to perform well on the day."

Fitzpatrick has a tough act to follow, with his Ballyhale club-mate Henry Shefflin having captained the Cats to glory last year.

Nonetheless, the St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra student is glad to have high quality, experienced players like Shefflin to call on.

"There's a senior cycle of players there on the team, like Henry Shefflin, Michael Kavanagh, Derek Lyng and Eddie Brennan for example.

"All of these players are leaders in their own way. As a younger player I look up to them just to try and learn from their example."

Shefflin and 'Cha' show a tremendous pride towards their club Ballyhale Shamrocks All-Ireland club successes have come their way in recent years and Fitzpatrick says he will feel extra pride this Sunday as a representative of his club.

"There is a great tradition in Ballyhale. We have four All-Ireland club titles and they are equal in Birr at the top of the roll of honour.

"It's great for the club and I'm very grateful to the club and the players in the club. I see it that I am representing them for Kilkenny and I will be representing them on September 7."

South Kilkenny and along the Kilkenny-Waterford border has been a hive of activity in recent weeks in the lead-up to Sunday's showpiece decider.

Fitzpatrick says it is all good-natured banter.

"You can feel the excitement alright around that area. I would be in Waterford myself. There is going to be a lot more hype in Waterford this year with it being their first All-Ireland final in a long Kilkenny we are a bit more used to it.

"Along the southern area and along the border there will be a lot of tension, but a lot of banter too and a good bit of craic," he added.

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