CHA Fitzpatrick wasn’t his usual influential self in midfield for Ballyhale yesterday — most of his work was hidden toil, done in the trenches.
One piece of action that wasn’t hidden, however, was the strike directly across the helmet that he suffered just before half-time.
“I suppose only for the helmet I’d be unconscious,” he admitted, “But that’s the way it goes in matches, sometimes.”
The blow resulted in a yellow card for James Stephens wing-forward Gary Whelan but could easily have been red. Minutes later, however, to huge cheers from the 8,000 spectators, Cha demonstrated his well-being and class with a fine point from the right wing.
That made it 2-7 to 0-6 for Ballyhale, but it wasn’t over.
“We knew they were going to give us a tough match,” said Fitzpatrick. “Many people were saying we were going to run away with it but that doesn’t happen in a county final. It was 15 against 15, and they have so many really good players, tough players. Jackie Tyrell was phenomenal, he kept James Stephens in the game right up to the end, kept driving them forward.”
Ballyhale manager Maurice Aylward was relieved: “A tough one, tougher than a lot of people expected but not tougher than we expected, we knew they weren’t going to die.
” The way the game went, everyone thought we were home and dry at half-time – seven points up playing against a strong breeze. It doesn’t work out that way, and maybe we even got a false impression ourselves, but look, we won it, and it’s not easy to win three-in-a-row in Kilkenny. We’re just happy to have won it, that’s it.”
And now another Leinster campaign, and another possible tilt at Birr, their conquerors last season. Hold on, says Maurice: “Look, we wouldn’t win a Leinster club championship with that performance, but the pressure of winning three-in-a-row in Kilkenny is off, at least. We’ll give it a shot. We have the Laois champions next Sunday but we’re not going to worry about that this evening.”
James Stephens centre-back Jackie Tyrell did more yesterday than many would do in an entire season, a man-of-the-match display, even on a man of the calibre of Henry Shefflin.
“We knew if we hurled on the day, worked hard, we’d be there or thereabouts. No-one really gave us a chance but we had a game-plan and stuck to it.
“The early goals killed us, we never really recovered from it. We’re very disappointed, it was there for us but we just never kicked on. Overall they probably deserved to win it.
“When it was there to be won Michael Fennelly drove up the field, got a great score, they had that extra bit and it counted on the day. The goals killed us, they’re great at getting goals while we struggled to get them at the other end – the story of the game.”
“We probably didn’t play as well today as could,” said Ballyhale’s Henry Shefflin, “But sure look lads, who cares about vintage displays? In 20 years time who’ll care?
“It’s great to win three-in-a-row, that’s what it’s all about, great for Shamrocks, great for Cha, the lads and myself to do three-in-a-row with Kilkenny as well. We were lucky, but we know that ourselves.”
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