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Elated Fitzpatrick: It just couldn’t go any better

JAMES ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick’s trophy cabinet may need an extension.

Yesterday the All-Star, young hurler of the year, All-Ireland senior and U21 medallist, National League and county senior championship winner added a Leinster club medal to his collection as Ballyhale Shamrocks crushed the challenge of Birr.

But still the season isn’t over for Cha. "It just couldn’t go any better. It’s been brilliant, a year to remember. Now we have an U21 semi-final next weekend or the weekend after. Six of those lads were playing today and we’re going for four-in-a-row at U21," he said.

And yet there was no sign of tiredness, or of the dreaded burnout, in evidence in Portlaoise yesterday. Instead it was another masterclass in modern midfield play from the youngster, embellished with two effortless second -half pointed strokes from 80 metres.

Wing-back on the team of the millennium, multiple All-Star, multiple All-Ireland medallist at county and club level, double player-of-the-year, he was on the losing side yesterday but the curtain hasn’t yet come down either on the career of Brian Whelehan.

"It’s very disappointing today especially to be beaten so comprehensively, but we’ll be back next year," he said.

"I’m going to stay at it with the club for another year."

It’s a sign of the respect in which he is held that most of those queuing to shake Brian’s hand afterwards, to look for his autograph, were Kilkenny people, hardy Ballyhale supporters, hurling fans who recognise greatness.

They saw it again yesterday, from their own certainly, Cha and Henry Shefflin leading the charge, but from Whelehan also, a flick off the stick of the goal-rushing Paddy Reid right at the death typical of his enduring genius.

Once Ballyhale turned with the wind at their tails in the second half just a point behind, Birr having hit 12 first-half wides, it was over, certainly as far as Shamrocks coach Maurice Aylward was concerned.

"We got the weather we wanted and we gave the display we wanted to give as well. I said during the week, if we reached our potential we’d win the match and we did that — we exceeded our display of the county final. That second half was outstanding, the first quarter as well, though we fell away in the second quarter.

"But I wasn’t worried, we were still in a great position at half time. We were only a point down. I was confident we’d win by five or six points.

"This is an exceptional bunch of chaps.

"I might be crucified for saying this, but I think this is a more skilful team, a better hurling team, than the team that won three All-Irelands.

"The old team was harder, some great grafters with some great hurlers, and I often wished I had some of them, but having looked at these lads today, they’re well able to mix it too when the chips are down.

"They’re big and strong but they’re very skilful too, good hurlers — I mean, where would you see the like of Cha, that kind of skill?" Where?

Why, in Birr, Maurice, in Birr, wearing that number five, still wielding his stick like a wand. Magicians, young and old with the great Henry in the middle.

Privileged we all were, in Portlaoise yesterday.