“I’M back, flying fit, top of me form actually at the moment.”
In any other county, that news from Cha Fitzpatrick would be enough to see this most cultured of hurlers immediately reinstated to his usual midfield position.
Kilkenny isn’t any other hurling county, however. Two weeks ago the Cats got their 2010 championship campaign off to an impressive start, a 4-19 to 0-12 shellacking of Dublin in the Leinster semi-final; even with Cha out injured, the new pairing of Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly did the business for Kilkenny, and thus, for Sunday’s Leinster final in Croke Park against Galway, are in pole position to start again.
That’s the way it is in Kilkenny, that’s why this Sunday they are going for their 12th provincial title in the last 13 years (a last-second semi-final defeat against Wexford in the semi-final of 2004 their only loss in that period).
“Yeah, that’s it, the two boys haven’t put a foot wrong, but I’m trying to put pressure on them for a place on the team.
“Hopefully I’ll play some part on Sunday, whether starting or coming on; I won’t know until the team is announced on Friday but I’m flying fit, finding a bit of form.
“There’s so much competition for places in Kilkenny, you have to be fully fit and you have to be on top of your game – if you’re not, there’s always someone waiting to come in. It’s tough going, but that’s just the way it is. There’s never any let-up, none whatsoever. This year the trainers and management, Brian (Cody, manager) and Mick Dempsey, have really kept things fresh, especially with the drills, the physical training – maybe even the frequency of it, which is very important to keep things going.
“We’re all peaking now in fitness and in freshness – this is the time of the year for that, this is what you need in the heat of battle.”
And a battle this should be, Galway having proved their own credentials with a hard-earned win after a replay, against a strong, skilful and totally committed Offaly side.
“I saw those games, and Offaly were very good. Galway didn’t play to their full potential but they still won – you have to be cautious when you meet a team like that, so much room for improvement. We’re concentrating on our own game, as usual, but we’re expecting Galway to come out of the traps fairly lively.”
A primary teacher in Dundrum, Co Dublin, Cha finished up classes this week which leaves him free and at home in Ballyhale for the summer, plenty of time to build on that fitness and sharpness.
He’s going to need it too, because as Antrim showed against Offaly, as Offaly then showed against Galway, as Laois showed against Dublin and as Carlow showed against Laois, every team now in the MacCarthy Cup is extremely well prepared physically.
The hits are getting harder, the pace is getting faster, and anyone not putting in the work will be left behind.
“That’s it, it’s getting tougher and tougher the whole time; the fitness levels are increasing, every team and every player is going that extra mile, trying to find that extra edge to get the upper hand.
“The game against Dublin, even though Kilkenny won well, out on the pitch it was really tough going for the lads; mightn’t have looked it, but it was. Definitely the level of preparation is going up all the time – it’s almost up to professional level really.
“The weather has been a factor too, very warm for the last few weeks, and hydration during this week is very important – it’s all part of it now.”
Makes things harder on the players of course but it also makes for a better spectacle and this Sunday in Croke Park should see as big a crowd for a Leinster final as there’s been for years.
“I hope so, yes, we’re looking forward to what should be a great occasion.”
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